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LOVE SHOW

by Audrey Bell

Copyright 2014 by Audrey Bell. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. Printed in the United States of America. First Edition.

Cover design Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations LLC Cover photograph ollyy, Shutterstock

audreybellbooks.blogspot.com

You have to pick the places you don't walk away from. -Joan Didion

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
LOVE SHOW Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-Four Chapter Thirty-Five Chapter Thirty-Six Chapter Thirty-Seven Chapter Thirty-Eight Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-One Chapter Forty-Two Chapter Forty-Three Chapter Forty-Four Chapter Forty-Five Chapter Forty-Six Chapter Forty-Seven Chapter Forty-Eight Chapter Forty-Nine Chapter Fifty Chapter Fifty-One Epilogue

Chapter One
The fall of my senior year of college, my roommate decided I was a head case because of the espresso machine to which we owed our friendship. Actually, David probably decided I was a head case the first day of freshman year, when we met. My mother had just decided to get divorced for the fifth time and I had just decided Id had enough. "I just don't understand where the rest of your room is," my mother said for the eighth time. "This is the whole room. All of it." "But where will you put your espresso machine?" "In the hallway. The espresso machine can go in the hallway or it can go with you, but it is not going in here." "I think you should complain. I thought you were supposed to be going to college. This looks like a prison cell." Id stepped out of the tiny room with the espresso machine to catch my breath. And thats when Id met David. He had taken the espresso machine and, because he had no one to move him in, he'd also taken my mother. Anyways, he'd been fine with my being a head case and in love with the espresso machine until the last week of November my senior year, when he decided he was definitely not okay with either.

I had just gotten back to Northwestern from my third-round interview at The New York Times and had to put the finishing touches on a junior staffer's piece on online privacy before memorizing idiomatic expressions for my advanced Arabic test in the morning. So, I needed a few cappuccinos. It was the fourth cappuccino that did it. David stormed out of the room. "What. The. Hell. Are. You. Doing." I held up my Arabic textbook. "Test tomorrow." "Are you kidding me?" "Sorry, I know it's late." "It's not late. It's early. It's five forty-five in the morning," he said. "Seriously?" I glanced at the clock. "Gosh, time flies." "Time does not fly, Hadley. It moves at a constant pace." He looked at me seriously. "You look like a drug addict. And not in a good way." "Can you ever look like a drug addict in a good way?" "I'm sure it's been done before. But not by you." "Well, I'm not on drugs." "That's okay. I'm having an intervention anyways." A study intervention? He took my Arabic book away. I smiled and held my hand out for the book.

"David, I need to study." "You need to study like the Mojave Desert needs a dry spell. You have a 4.0 GPA. You are the last person in the world who needs to study. Here are some people who need to study. Me. Tara Barnes. Kim Kardashian. Miley Cyrus. You do not need to study. You need to take a nap, a Xanax, and a two-year vacation." "Oh, please. "You're addicted to work." "I am not addicted to anything." I tried to snatch the book back from him. "You are. Work and caffeine and possibly sugar," he said mildly, leafing through the pages. "I mean, look at this. You learned how to speak a language in college. You want to know what I learned?" "Theater?" He arched an eyebrow. "How to roll a joint." He closed the book. "Anyways, this is unhealthy. It's unhealthy for you and it's even more unhealthy for me." "How is it unhealthy for you?" "Because, people think I live with a drug addict. And your work ethic makes me feel small and pathetic and lazy and we can't have that. I need to feel superior or, when that's not possible, at the very least, equal to you." I smiled. "I need the book back." "You need to get laid," David said. "Let's talk about this later."

"Like when?" David asked. "Today." "When today? Before or after the newspaper staff meeting?" "Christ, I forgot about that. Dinner. We can cook dinner." Isn't the newspaper cohosting the Ambassador to Turkey at the multicultural center for dinner tonight? I looked at him. I need the book back, David. He sat down on the couch. "How was the interview?" "Seriously?" "You want the book back?" I exhaled. It was fine. I rubbed my chin. I liked the journalist who interviewed me. She seemed cool intense but cool. I shrugged. "They said they weren't sure about my experience level. It would be in Africa, not the Middle East, and Arabic's not as useful. But, the interview seemed fine. I liked her a lot. I shrugged. "That's good!" Yeah. It's good. I agreed. I really want the job. He looked at me expectantly. So, is that all?" I asked, reaching out my hand for the book. Of course not. I want to discuss your mental health and your sex life. That was supposed to be an icebreaker.

Look, I get it. I'm stressed out right now and it's freaking you out and I woke you up It's not freaking me out. I'm worried about you, he said sincerely. Theres nothing to worry about. Promise. He smiled. It's not an insult, Hadley. It is, though. Kind of, I said. Like, you're worried I can't do what I signed up for. "Well, that's not what I meant. I'm not worried that you can't do it. I'm worried that you're going to do everything you signed up for so well that you won't ever enjoy anything. He smiled. I'm saying youre awesome and you need to take a nap and get laid or, at the very least, make out with a stranger. What does that have to do with anything? He rolled his eyes. "It has to do with the college experience." Fine. You're right. "See, the thing He stopped himself short. Wait, what? I'm right? Yes. Now, can I have the book? "So, you'll make out with a stranger?" No. You're right. I'm a head case. I'll take a nap. He growled. Book. He handed it back to me. We're not done here. I'm just going to bed. Not to sleep, obviously. You would look

down on that. I'm going to practice transcendental meditation and possibly achieve nirvana. I'll let you know if I get there. He flounced back to his room and I returned to the text, my eyes blurring.

Chapter Two
David had probably been right to worry about my mounting sleep debt. After my Arabic exam, I went to the wrong library to meet with one of the freshman staff writers for The Daily Northwestern who had doubts about a piece he'd been working on. Justin Shelter hunched over his laptop at a corner table in the engineering library. Which was crowded. And quiet. On a Friday! David would've had strong words for this. "Sorry, I said breathlessly. I forgot we were doing this here. I forgot you were an engineering student altogether. That's the kind of day I've had. No sweat, Justin said with a grin. Thanks for coming. Most of the kids who worked for the paper were in the Medill School of Journalism, but there were a few outsiders. Justin was one of them. He was also one of our more talented writers. He had a knack for investigative journalism and had spent the last month working on a piece on alcohol and student health. I read over his most recent draft while he watched, occasionally chewing a stray fingernail. A student had died over the summer from alcohol poisoning, and it had prompted a lot of concerned emails from the administration, but no real changes. The death hadnt occurred on campus, but Justin thought it might be a

symptom of a larger issue. He was righta dozen different students, most of them freshmen, had been hospitalized since the beginning of the year for alcohol poisoning and eleven of them had come from the same address, an off-campus fraternity house. Wow, I said when I got to that point. That changes things. He nodded. I know. Have you contacted anyone at the fraternity? Yeah, I emailed the president twice. He hasn't written back, and I don't think he will. He frowned. "I asked a few other kids. They didn't exactly give me anything printable. Unless, don't be a fag counts as a legitimate comment. Animals, I said. Well, if they don't want to defend themselves, fine. I don't want it be a takedown piece, you know? It's about student health. Yeah. But, you can't change facts, I said. The fact that kids have gone to the hospital from their parties at a disproportionate rate isn't a takedown. Its just whats true. He squinted at his computer screen. Yeah, I know. Make it clear that the house is at the center of the incidents. Say they declined your repeated requests for

comment. Talk to a few other people. People who arent in the fraternity but go to their parties. See if they can give you a better idea of what happened, whether the fraternity should bear some of the responsibility or not, whether this is specific to this fraternity or specific to fraternities in general, I shrugged. You want to be fair, but you can't leave it out. I know. He smiled ruefully. I just dont want to seem like a kid with an ax to grind. You're not the story. The facts speak for themselves, not to your opinions, I said. He'd have heard that if he'd taken a journalism class. It's a good story, you've worked hard on it. He nodded. Yeah. Yeah. Right. I know. He let out a heaving sigh. Justit would be easier if it were easier. I laughed. Yes. It would. But, listen, I think you are great. I think the article will be great, I said. Don't let it stress you out. It's a good story; it's an important story. You know all this. He nodded. Thanks. Sorry to be an alarmist. I just wasn't sure what to do. He grinned. Literally no one ever read my high school newspaper, so I didn't have to worry about it. Well, people will read this. That's the problem! He smiled and then sighed. Alright, well, I'll get a draft to you sometime next week.

Exams are killing me. Take your time. He laughed. Right. How many writers do you say that to? None. Zero. Only you. But you're the only person who investigates anything, so you're special. I got to my feet. You coming to this multiculturalism thing? He shook his head. Ive got to study this stuff, unfortunately. Well, I have to practice my speech. But email me if anything else comes up, okay? Yeah, of course. David and Nigel, his friend from the GSA, were making risotto when I got back to the apartment to change into something less ratty than my torn jeans and ragged t-shirt. I thought you were coming to the dinner, I told David. David raised his eyebrows. Im coming to the dinner for you, but you really can't expect me to eat cafeteria food on a Friday night. I looked at Nigel. How'd you get roped into this? I wanted to come, Nigel insisted. Liar. I don't even want to go. Nigel laughed. So, David said you were just meeting Justin Shelter? I nodded. Yeah, you know

him? I do. I'm trying to set David up with him. You're joking, I said. What's wrong with him? David asked. I knew something was wrong with him. I just didn't know he was gay. Does he know he's gay? David asked. Yes, Nigel said. I'll take it under consideration. Nigel shrugged. David had a bad habit of falling in love with straight boys. Nigel had a bad habit of trying to fix it. You know who needs relationship advice? David asked. "Amanda Bynes," I said. Close. Miley Cyrus. Kim Kardashian, I said. Tiger Woods. Hadley Arrington. Front of the line. Nigel laughed. Ooh. Really? I want to help. "I need to get dressed, I said, sighing. "She needs to get laid," David told Nigel. I went to my room and pulled on a black dress that I'd worn to a winter formal my junior year of high school. It had held up well, like the saleswoman at Bergdorf's had promised. My mother and I had been on one of those horrific

college tours that everyone goes on with their parents, where the only thing you end up doing is fighting. She'd signed divorce papers that November and Tom, Julian, and Leahmy stepfather, stepbrother, and stepsisterhad disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived. The house had disappeared too, another casualty of the divorce. We'd moved to a penthouse apartment on Market Street, and, after three months of refusing to unpack, I'd finally put away my books and my clothes. I'd been dusting off the box of picture frames to put up around my room when my mother told me that Lawrence had proposed. Wed left on the college tour the next morning. I would end up remembering each school by what we fought about there. NYU had been our last stop. The dress had been an attempt at a bribe. You have to understand, Hadley, my mother said, after she'd bought the dress and a pair of shoes that I would never learn to walk in. You'll be gone soon, and I don't want to be alone. I had already known that, but I had never heard her say it aloud and it made one thing very clear to me: being afraid to be alone made you dependent on someone else. Someone you hadnt met yet. A stranger. And a stranger was an incredibly stupid and unreliable thing to depend on.

I promised myself I would never do that. And I never did. When I stepped back out of my room, David handed me a plate of butternut squash risotto. Nigel said he needs to know what's your type. I looked at Nigel. Of what? Of man, David said. I took a bite of the risotto and closed my eyes. I could live on this stuff. I think her type needs to be very, very, very calm, David said. I don't have a type, I admitted. I set down my fork. Last boyfriend? Nigel asked. I rolled my eyes. My last boyfriend had been Luke. In high school. Nice kid. I had liked him. Lost my virginity to him. The whole nine yards. I broke up with him when he said he loved me. It reminded me too much of my mother. He told everyone I was a huge bitch. I didnt blame him for that. But, he also told everyone I was a slut. That was, first of all, a lie, and second of all, a douche bag move. Hed been the popular one, though. People believed him. Everyone believed him. And when everyone believes something about you, it might as well be true. Some lacrosse player, I said dismissively, not wanting to get into it. "High school.

Seriously? Nigel asked. Your type is lacrosse player? I shook my head. No. I don't have a type. My last boyfriend was a lacrosse player. Thats all. Well, good. We don't have a lacrosse team, David said. "On second thought, maybe it is lacrosse player," I said. Her type is not lacrosse player. Don't try to find one, David said. She'll hurt it. How would I hurt a lacrosse player? Youd kill him with your Arabic textbook, David said. Well, when's the last time you went on a date? Nigel asked. I cocked my head, trying to think. I don't know. Nobody's asked me out since high school. Well, to be fair, that would be hard to do, David said. The only things that might have gotten to know you well enough to ask you out are your textbooks and the newspaper, and, as you may have heard, they generally don't ask questions. Ray Chang, I said, ignoring David. He was the valedictorian of my high school and my ex-stepbrother was on the fencing team with him. We have a fencing team. And valedictorians, Nigel pointed out.

We didn't exactly hit it off, I admitted. And it was a prom date, not a real date. We both needed someone to go with. Okay, whos your celebrity crush? Edward Murrow. Is he in Twilight? Nigel asked. No, he's been dead for decades, I said. They both looked at me blankly. He ended Joe McCarthy's career? I reminded them. He did the report on the Army-McCarthy hearings? Nothing. George Clooney made a movie about him? Good Night and Good Luck. Come on, really? I said, looking from Nigel to David. Huh, missed that one, Nigel said. David exhaled. So you're saying you're a necrophiliac? Is that it? I'm saying I'm not interested in being set up with anyone, I said. I don't want a boyfriend. I'm not trying to find you a boyfriend. I'm trying to get you laid so you relax. And then I can relax. Who is the last person you hooked up with? Nigel asked. I shrugged. The last person I'd hooked up with had been Andrewa boy I still worked with on the newspaperand it had been the night I found out I would

be Editor-in-Chief. It had been the kind of night that only ever happens right after finals. The kind of night when you cant tell exactly what it is that has gotten you so drunk: exhaustion or alcohol or relief. Andrew, I said. But that barely counts. Andrew is not her type, David said. Which is unfortunate, because he would be very convenient and hes in love with her. Hes not in love with me. Nigel cocked his head. So, basically, you don't know what you want." She has no idea, David said. She needs to go to tailgate, Nigel said. Okay, I have things to do. I picked up my plate of risotto, waved the printout of my speech in front of them, and walked to the sanctuary of my room. "You're coming to tailgate," David called after me. The speech went off without a hitch. I walked back to campus with David, sipping vodka and lemonade from a Gatorade bottle. Nigel had abandoned us to meet a student at the University of Chicago he had just started dating. I'm tired, I admitted, wincing as I swallowed a large gulp of David's concoction. My phone vibrated in my coat pocket and I stared

at the unrecognizable number. I bet that's the Times. Doubtful, I said. On a Friday night? Answer it! he said urgently. "Hello, this is Hadley. Hadley, it's Suzanne Reiss from the New York Times. How are you? I asked, nodding at David to let him know hed guessed correctly. He fist-pumped exuberantly. I rolled my eyes. Listen, I just wanted to give you a call and tell you how impressed we were with your candidacy. She took a breath. Unfortunately, we've decided to go in a different direction with someone with more experience. I swallowed. What are you supposed to say to that? Thank you for being impressed? But, I really want to emphasize that we all thought you did a great job and that you were a strong candidate for this position. And we will certainly keep your rsum on file for future openings. I swallowed. Ah, okay. Yeah. Thanks. That'd be good. I'm sorry this isnt better news, she continued. She sounded sympathetic. We wish you every success, not that you'll need our wishes to achieve it. I blinked. "Oh, um. Okay. Well, thanks for letting me know.

Of course, Hadley. I really do wish it were better news. Have a good evening. Thanks, I said again. You, too. I pushed the phone back into my bag, trying to pretend that didn't just happen. That I hadn't just been told no by The New York Times. I should have seen it coming. I blinked twice, surprised at the hot rush of anger and hurt I felt. It was childish, really, to cry over not getting a prestigious job that I was lucky to even be interviewing for, but here I was, disappointed, out of sorts, strangling the flash of emotion in my chest. I looked up at the starless night. I multiplied numbers in my head until the tears dissipated and then I took a long swig from the Gatorade bottle and flashed David a falsely bright smile. David slipped his hands into his pockets and watched me warily. What did they say? he asked after a second. I didn't get the job. What? he looked shocked. I took another sip from the Gatorade bottle, thinking of the hundreds of nights I stayed up too late and woke up too early and said no to too many friends. I had believed, foolishly, that because I gave up on fun, I was entitled to a job at the Times. I didnt like that I had allowed myself to think that way.

He reached for me. I'm sorry. No, it's fine. Really, I said. I stepped away, not particularly wanting to be comforted. It doesn't matter, I told myself. There are other newspapers. I swallowed thickly. "Hadley, slow down. Come on," David said. He jogged to keep up with me. There are so many other newspapers. So many other places to apply. She said they would keep you in mind, anyways. And it's fine. It doesn't matter. No big deal. It's funny how quickly you begin to talk yourself out of your own dreams. I took another long sip of the lemonade and vodka. David caught up to me. He grabbed my wrist. Hey, talk to me. It's fine. "It's not." He shook his head. "It's their loss, but it still sucks." "Right." I bit my lip, wondering if I'd picked the wrong pieces to showcase or if I had seemed too shy for the Eastern Africa bureau or something. I'm sure they'll really suffer without me. It's a miracle they've kept afloat since 1851 without my services. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and I let him hug me briefly. He didn't say much else. There wasn't

much else to say. When we got home, I took a shower. I washed the shampoo out of my hair and slapped my hand against the shower wall twice. "Fuck," I muttered. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." When I got out of the shower, I looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes showed most of the week's damage; red-rimmed and dark-circled, the left one was slightly larger than the right. That happened whenever I went too long without a normal amount of sleep. I toweled my hair into some kind of nasty Mohawk and got another good look at myself in the mirror. "You look like a troll doll," I told my reflection. "A fucking demented troll doll." I cleared my throat. "And you're talking to yourself. So, you've lost your mind." I exhaled and huffed. "Clearly. No wonder they didnt hire you. Youre fucking crazy. I closed my eyes, unwilling to look at myself for another second. "You've Got Mail is on!" David shouted. I toweled off my hair and put on a bathrobe. "Say something so I know you didn't drown yourself!" "Be right out!" I called back. I shuffled out of the bathroom and over to David. I sat down next to him on the couch just as Meg Ryan was being stood up by Tom Hanks at the caf. "You've Got Mail could only be the name of a

romantic comedy in the 90s," I said. "The only thing I like about my inbox is the delete button." David took a handful of popcorn. "You. Need. To. Get. Laid." "I need to get a job." I said. "And a haircut. And new eyes. Have you seen this? My eyes are different sizes." He looked at my eyes. "It's cause you're tired. So, close them. And stop talking. And go to sleep." I yawned, thinking of something else to say about the inanity of romantic comedies, but as soon as my eyes were shut, I dropped off into slumber.

Chapter Three
David had been counting on doing a lot more wheedling to get me to go to tailgate. When I walked out of my room at 11 AM, he was already drinking with Nigel. He lifted a plastic cup in my direction and grinned wickedly. Nigel was squinting at a beer, jabbering on his cell phone to someone he was calling 'Snookums.' "So, I've been thinking that it's a requirement for you to attend tailgate, David said. "Sure. "Seriously?" I shrugged. "Why not? I don't have anything better to do." He opened his mouth and then closed it. "Wonderful. Put on something waterproof. They're calling for a monsoon." Perfect, I said dryly. Nobody should drink alcohol at eleven in the morning. It's a recipe for disaster. Nigel was slurring his words by noon and David was trying to cut my hair and I was singing Ke$ha at the top of my lungs. What the fuck are you doing? I demanded when he came at me with scissors. You need a haircut. No. Trust me.

No. He pouted. But, Hadley, Im dying to cut somebodys hair. Cut your own damn hair. David checked his reflection in the mirror and tossed his head from side to side so his golden locks bounced. He pouted. That would be criminal, he said. Your hair, however, is problematic. And Nigel has a limited quantity of hair." I looked at Nigel's buzz cut. "Go away," I said to David as he snipped in the air. "That is dangerous." "Please, Hadley, please, Hadley, please, please I looked in the mirror. There is nothing wrong with my hair. You have so many split ends, its giving me a panic attack. Oh my God, I said. He smiled maniacally. Yes. No. Suit yourself, he huffed, dropping the scissors on the counter. He sipped his lethally strong vodka lemonade from a hot pink Hello Kitty cup he had bought on one of our epic trips to Target. Youre making out with a stranger today," David announced. He filled my glass with another generous

portion of lethal lemonade. "I can't drink this." "You can. And you will. And then you will find a stranger, make out with him, and have the college experience." "That's it?" "No, thats the beginning," David said. "Baby steps. Nigel!" Nigel opened his eyes. What? "Are you falling asleep?" "No," Nigel said. I slurped my drink through a straw. David turned the music up louder. By the time, Id had my third vodka lemonade, I probably would have let David cut my hair and then perform open heart surgery if he wanted to. "We need to go," Nigel said to David. "Hadley, we're leaving," David said to me. I love you so much. I think maybe we should get married, I said to David. I did not go through hell in high school so that I could marry someone with a vagina. He gave me a withering look. We would be a great couple though. And we wouldnt ever have to have sex. Dont be disgusting. I love you. He dragged me by the wrist toward the

refrigerator. You need to drink more. You have the alcohol tolerance of a four year old. Well, maybe we could have sex once if we wanted to have kids. Please stop talking. He handed me a Red Bull and I made a face. Dont even start. You are drinking that. I am not going to carry you home. Im just not. If you pass out in the parking lot, then you can stay there. In the Monsoon. Where you will drown. Thats mean. Thats why Im giving you a Red Bull, he said. You would totally carry me home. He made a face. He would totally carry me home. He just wouldnt be happy about it. So, I drank the Red Bull. We stumbled down the tree-lined block to the parking lot where the student tailgate was held. I wore jeans and boots with a heel, and a tight purple tank top to show a modicum of school spirit. I should have worn a coat. Youre too drunk to be cold. You dont know everything. I know most things, David replied wearily. What is the point of even going to this thing? They arent going to beat Nebraska, I said. Nobody cares about the game. Its for the social scene, he said. And, that was true. Most of the students would stumble back to their dorms and apartments long

before halftime. Hadley! Andrew Brenner shouted as soon as we walked into the parking lot, which was jam-packed with people I knew and people Id never seen. Everyone looked drunk. I hugged Andrew warmly. Mostly because, in spite of Davids insistence that I wouldnt feel cold, I was freezing. Its supposed to rain, Andrew warned me, with an eye to the sky. Theres a low pressure system moving northeast out of Kansas. Oh, okay, I looked up at the foreboding clouds and nodded. Low pressure. Andrew really liked the weather, which was endearing, butyou know, tedious. He knew all sorts of facts about dew points and densities and southerly breezes. So long as you didnt let him get started on meteorology, he was the sweetest kid in the world. But hed started in on the weather. And no matter how sweet he was, I couldnt take much of it. Usually, David would have taken this opportunity to interrupt and drag me somewhere more interesting, but he gave me a thumbs up and an encouraging smile. Im just going to say hi to someone, he said. "David," I hissed at his rapidly retreating back. "Hey, did you hear back from the Times yet?"

Andrew asked. I cocked my head at him. "Nope. No, I didn't. Not a word. I did hear that there was a hurricane off the coast of West Africa, though. Sounds wild. Andrew looked at me incredulously. "No way." "I'm pretty sure," I lied. "Where?" He pulled out his iPhone. "Do you know if the system has a name? That would be virtually unprecedented. It's almost December! And its the Southern hemisphere "I've got to run," I said. I lunged after David, but quickly found myself jumbled in a vaguely familiar sea of purple. The music was thumping. The pavement vibrated. Id felt houses vibrate from aggressively loud speakers, but Id never felt the actual ground move. And I thought I was drunk, but I definitely wasnt. I mean, not compared to the people here. I wasnt throwing up in a garbage can like the skinny girl in jean shorts a few yards to my right. And I hadnt yet taken off my shirt, like the screaming, incoherent boy to my left. This is trippy, I muttered to myself. Appropriately, I took that moment to trip. Not badly. I caught myself. Still, I tripped. Someone wrapped a warm hand around my arm and helped me up. I brushed my hands off on my jeans, cringing. You okay?

I looked up into a pair of thick-lashed brown eyes. They were soft. Bedroom eyes. Deep and big. Something you wanted to fall into. Okay, so I was definitely drunk. He was handsome, too, in a blue plaid shirt, with a playful smilehalfway between teasing and happy to see youand tall, at least six two. We were standing close enough that I had to lift my chin to look into his eyes. He waved a hand in front of my eyes. "Hey. He laughed gently. Are you okay? Did you hit your head?" Oh. Sorry. No, I said awkwardly. Im-Im goodIm fine. I smiled. Im great. Just clumsy. Someone shouted in our direction and the handsome stranger turned his head. One second, okay? He took a few steps towards a pickup truck parked at the edge of the lot. There you are, David said, grabbing my wrist and yanking me forward. Where the hell did you go? he asked. Where did I go? You were supposed to make out with Andrew. What? I turned my head. I was just drunk enough to want to make out with the handsome guy in plaid. I tried to locate the back of his head in the crowd, but David kept pulling my wrist. I am not making out with Andrew. Andrew likes you.

Says who? Everybody who has eyes. Thats ridiculous. And I've made out with Andrew. It was not memorable." "Right, you were drunk." "Not that drunk." Mm he took a deep breath. You need to make out with someone. Break the totally depressing vow of celibacy youve taken I havent taken a vow. Nobody goes through three years of college without so much as drunkenly hooking up with a stranger without taking vows. Or being, you know, Mormon, or something, he indicated vaguely with one hand. He looked at me suspiciously. "And I know you're not a Mormon. One, youre drunk and two, youre a caffeine fiend." I took in a deep breath of the cold air and ran my hand through my hair. Something about being cold and drunk and wobbly from having tripped made me want to do something moderately crazy. Well, there was someone over there, I said vaguely. Excuse me? There was someoneyou know, cute. Over there. I indicated over to where the stranger in plaid had been. You think someones cute? he repeated slowly.

"I've literally never heard you say that before. Where?" Over there," I gestured. "But, I don't think Where? Who? Why didnt you say something sooner? Okay, youve got to stop yanking my arm, I said, as he pulled me back towards where I had been when I fell. I mean, I think youre going to dislocate my shoulder. The rain started with a few fat and icy drops and quickly picked up. Some people screamed dramatically and began to flee. Others cheered and turned up the music. FUCK! David shouted, throwing his head back. Where is he? In a plaid shirt. Of course, you would want to make out with someone in the middle of a stampede, he shouted at me. I dont want to make out with anybody!" He rolled his eyes as someones shoulder banged roughly into mine and he pulled me closer to him. The rain turned from soft drops to a steady stream. I shuddered as it ran down my hair and my back. The wind whistled across the parking lot and empty plastic cups skittered across the ground around my feet. There! I said. Hes right there. And he was right there, with a handful of boys who seemed totally undisturbed by the rain. He was leaning against a red pickup truck with that easy smile on his face.

He glanced up at the rain, like he was happy to see it. David pulled me closer. Him? Yeah. Okay. Go talk to him. What? No. Yes. He gave me a little push. Wait, what am I going to say to him? I asked David. Just talk. Youre smart. No, no, no, no, I said, digging in my heels, literally. This is a bad idea. This is like Then, he saw us. He stood up and smiled at me. And David disappeared. Hey! I looked behind me to see whom the Plaid Stranger was talking to. Nobody. Or rather to me. And I was David-less and I had nothing to say. My throat closed up. I was wondering where you went, he said. I nodded. Uh-huh? Jesus, Hadley. All you can come up with is syllables? Tree branches swayed and rustled overhead. Dead leaves whipped around in circles in the parking lot. He reached me in three easy steps. I looked at his hands. That was easier than looking at him. They were stained with

blue and red ink and I thought maybe I could ask him about that, but that also seemed really weird. Where the hell had David gone? I turned my head once more behind me. He was nowhere. I looked at the handsome doe-eyed stranger and smiled, uncomfortably. "Do you want a beer?" "It's raining," I pointed out. He smiled. "Weve got the waterproof kind of can. I nodded. "Okay. Yeah, sure." He stepped back towards the pickup and tossed me a beer, which I caught, barely. Sorry, he smiled. No worries, I got it. Were going to wait it out, he said, nodding up at the sky. "Yeah," I said. I looked up at the sky, too. That was even easier than looking at his hands was. Flirt, I reminded myself. You think hes cute. So flirt. "It seems like a lot of shit like this has been happening all week, he mused. "Rain? Or people raining on your parade?" "My tailgate," he amended, grinning. The rain picked up. Yeah. I needed a drink. Or a funny story to tell. I tried to open my beer, and found that my hands were scraped and shaky. He took it, wordlessly, cracked it open

and handed it back to me. "Thanks." I said. "I know what you mean. About the rain." "Yeah? Whos ruined your week?" I smiled. I looked up at him. His eyes were just as soft now. And I hadn't hit my head. That was a real thing that his eyes were actually soft. "I don't know. Nobody. Myself. The Cairo bureau. In Egypt. Sorry, you're not stupid. I'm sure you know Cairo is in Egypt. Anyways, this woman named Suzanne works there and she...well, it's kind of her fault. Actually, I don't think its her fault. Its totally my fault. She was really nice about it. But, yeah, rain." I looked at him again, unable to shut up, maybe because he didn't appear to be totally horrified. He just looked like he was listening. Although, I was horrified. "Sorry, I'm drunk. I mean, all that's true, but I'm also drunk, and my life is kind of a mess. Or, it feels like a mess. I guess it's not actually a mess. I just thought I knew exactly what to do to get exactly what I wanted, and I never really considered that maybe it wouldn't work out. And then, like, the second it didn't work out, I just immediately talked myself out of believing I ever even wanted it. And I feel like I was so sure of everything that it would be embarrassing to admit that things didnt work out like I planned. You know? I was always the sensible one. And if it turns out I wasnt sensibleand that I just deluded myself into thinking I wasI would feel like such a

fraud. I caught my breath. I mean, I kind of am a fraud, Ive realized. So, I'm pretending that it's all good. And so far nobody's noticed. But Im a mess. You can probably tell. I'm a drunk mess. You're way too polite, by the way. You should make a face or something before I say anything really embarrassing." "I don't think you've said anything embarrassing," he said quietly. "Right. Well, that's because you have no idea what I'm talking about. It makes no sense." He grinned and cocked his head. "It makes some sense." "Doesn't make any sense." I shook my head and took a sip of the beer. "No. It does. He stepped closer. "I mean, I don't know about Egypt or Suzanne, but I get that feeling. Not knowing why you're doing what you're doing? And feeling like a fraud? I get that way sometimes, too." He was so goddamn handsome. And there was something gentle about him and I was cold and drunk and it was raining and I hadnt gotten the job and for once I felt really like I didnt have anything to lose. He met my eyes and smiled, sheepishly. I mean I stepped forward and kissed him. Suddenly and impulsively.

Because I wanted to. Because I had nothing to lose. Because I believed, for once, there wasnt anything to lose here. I saw his eyes dilate before I shut mine tightly. He lifted me off the ground and I wrapped my legs around his waist and he kissed me back. I knew I had been kissed before. Except for suddenly I was sure I had never been kissed at all. Not really. Not like this. It had never been like this. I heard someone make a hooting noise, but mainly I just heard the rain falling and the people running around us and the soft sound of his breathing. Mainly I just felt the way he kissed me and the firmness of his jaw and how he so obviously knew exactly what he was doing. After a moment, he lowered his mouth to my neck and I threw my head back, letting his warm, soft lips press against the sensitive place underneath my chin while the cold water ran down our faces. I shivered. From him or the water I couldnt tell. We both jumped slightly at a wild crack of thunder. He set me onto my feet, laughing. I opened my eyes and looked at him. He stood with his hands open and at his sides, a wide smile on his face as he watched a bolt of lightning split the streaming, gray sky. I looked up, too, at the lightening crackling across the sky like a scar.

He put a hand on my hip. Hey. Youre something, you know that? He breathed. Police, someone shouted. We both turned to see students running and flashing red and blue lights. The sirens of the campus police blared loudly. I came to my senses. I was in the middle of a parking lot in a thunderstorm, practically in a monsoon, in the arms of a strange man. This was so irresponsible. I stepped back from him and started to run. Hey, wait up! I didnt turn back, though. The last thing I needed was to get cited by campus police for public intoxication. The rain came in torrents, and the students, who were drunk and disorderly to begin with, moved riotously towards the lots gate. DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER THE TAILGATE IS CANCELLED. ALL STUDENTS MUST DISPERSE. DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER THE TAILGATE IS CANCELLED. ALL STUDENTS MUST DISPERSE. "Hold up!" I jumped as someone grabbed my arm. What the hell, Hadley? David, it was just David. Are you insane? Or have you been reading a lot of Nicholas Sparks novels? I dont know, I shouted at him. Lets go.

We ran through the rain, so fast that David couldnt ask me any questions, so fast that I couldnt think about anything but running. When we reached the off-campus bridge, which offered some refuge from the rain, he gave me a toothy, evil grin. That was pretty hot, he said. The rain was louder underneath the bridge. "I cannot believe I did that, I said breathlessly. Neither can I, he said. Who was that? I asked. He was delicious. Nicely done. "Do you know his name?" No clue. Was he a good kisser? Yes, I said. I closed my eyes. I think Im having a heart attack. Actually. Wow. That is good. From sprinting. Not from him, I said. I leaned against the bridges rough brick wall, trying to calm my heart rate and my breathing. Well, my plan worked. We are stuck under a bridge in a rainstorm and Im not wearing a coat and Im wet, and guess what? Im not so drunk that I cant feel the cold. Im cold. If this was your plan, then youre going to need to rethink your definition of success. And where is Nigel?" "With Snookums. I exhaled.

That was extremely sexy. "Shut up." "Epic, almost." Ill hurt you. Like, The Notebook. Or maybe Ill just murder you. Im going to murder you. Yep. The Notebook with a side of murder. He laughed happily. You looked like you were enjoying it." I rolled my eyes. "Well, I'm drunk." "Do you regret it?" No. I didn't. But I didn't quite want to admit that, either. "Ask me when I'm sober." I told myself I was just out of practice. I only thought it had been amazing because it had been so long. Still, I knew I didnt want to take it back. I wouldnt take it back for anything. I touched my hands to my lips. I wished Id told him my name.

Chapter Four
The stranger and the kiss stayed with me for an embarrassingly long period of time. Like, all through my hangover the next day and right through to the next weekendthe weekend before my very last exams, when I felt like I was too busy to breathe. Somehow, it kept coming back. I thought about his soft lips. His hands on my legs. I thought about it almost as much as I thought about the New York Times. I hadn't told anyone else that I didnt get the job. I wanted to pretend it hadnt happened. Justin Shelter handed in his piece on alcohol poisoning on Sunday which meant it would run in the last edition of the paper. That worked to his advantage. He would be off-campus for the initial backlash. Nobody from the fraternity had offered a comment, but Justin had followed my advice to interview other people and pulled a few telling quotes. The piece was excellent. For some members of the fraternity, it would probably be explosive. Justin had talked to one of the students who'd been hospitalized, and she said that the hospital had told her that her drink had been laced with ruphonyl, the date-rape drug. He had even managed to get a student health administrator on the record, admitting that the university was only aware of the students who had been hospitalized, not where they had come from.

I ran through the article one last time, checking for split infinitives and stray commas. When I was confident it was flawless, I closed out of the editing window. I scrolled through the pages once more, saved all changes, uploaded the edition to our website, and sent the final design files over to our printer. I pushed back from the computer and sighed. Done. Last issue of the semester. I should have printed out my Arabic paper and read it one final time, but instead I opened a new tab in my browser and logged onto Facebook. I'd done this a few times this week: logged on and started clicking through random profiles, looking for him. It was pathetic. And stalkerish. And I kept doing it. I told myself that if I had his name the mystery would be solved and I'd stop thinking about it. I told myself that I'd always been an information addict and knowing nothing about the stranger Id kissed forced me to do some research. But, I knew I was deceiving myself. I liked kissing him and I wanted to know who he was. Twenty fruitless minutes later, our printers emailed me and confirmed receipt of the production files. It snapped me out of my social media trance. I thanked them, shut down my computer, and printed my Arabic paper. I felt sorry for myself as I walked to my car in the cold. I told myself to get a gripI'd be going back to San

Francisco tomorrow with David for winter break. Last I'd heard from my mother, she'd been dating someone new named Sol. That had been in August, but I hadn't been home since last December. I missed San Francisco. And it would be nice to have nothing to do for a few weeks. And maybe there I could forget about the stranger in the parking lot and The New York Times.

Chapter Five
Campus was quiet the morning Justin's article ran. I snapped a photo of the issue and texted it to Justin: Looks good!! Haha, on a plane home. Save me a copy! I cut through the library and dropped my Arabic paper in the box outside of Professor Haskell's office. David was packing when I got back to our apartment. "Do I need sunglasses?" Do you know anything about San Francisco? He looked at me blankly. Its like in Northern California and you went to high school there. Its a permanent cloud. The sun is not a thing in San Francisco. It doesnt say that on the Wikipedia page, he replied blandly. Im packing sunglasses. Waste of space. They're very small. And they will help me sleep at night. He yawned. So, have you tracked down the Nicholas Sparks boy? That never happened. He doesnt exist." Normally, people introduce themselves before making out. I dont think I fully explained the art of the drunken make out to you. I rolled my eyes. "Don't bring sunglasses. Well, what should I pack?

Normal clothing, I said. My moms pretty casual about Christmas. He raised his eyebrows. Your mother is too fabulous to be casual about anything." "Except holidays," I smiled at him. I tried not to complain about my parents to David. They were annoying, but they had never tried to hurt me. David's had. They threw him out of their home when he was a junior in high school. He had told them he was gay, thinking that they might find a new churchone that wasn't so homophobic. It had backfired. He'd lived with his sister and her husband after that. They were kind, but David knew they partly resented having to provide for him when they had young children of their own. David still made an effortevery now and again when he thought they might come around. He'd tried last year at Christmas and returned from break early, whitefaced and quieter than I'd ever seen him. He hadn't spoken to them since. "Are we going to your church or anything?" he asked. "Do I need a suit?" "No," I smiled. "Just bring your fine self, no sunglasses, and stop talking about the stranger. Oh, and don't tell my mom I didn't get the job at the Times." "You didn't tell her?" "No. And you arent going to either. She'll, like,

think I need to see a therapist," I said. I went into my room and grabbed my suitcase. "Come on. We've got to get going." I checked my phone a few times on the way to the airport while David read Justin's article. "This is the kid you want me to date?" "Nigel wants you to date. I'm not even sure he's gay." "He's in the GSA." "So am I," I pointed out. "Gay-straight." "There are no straight boys in the GSA," David replied. "Girls, fine. Boys, no." He folded the paper. "Good article, though. He sounds feisty." I smiled. "I guess." "He's not feisty?" Hes quiet at first, I said. But, yeah. Hes a little feisty. "Well, you've got to look out for the quiet ones. He nodded. Like you. When we reached the airport, I got the first and only email complaining about Justin's articlefrom Alexander Faulk, the president of the fraternity. Hi Hadley: I wanted to let you know that I saw Justin Shelters article in the paper. I'd like to be able to speak on the record, if possible. I'm the President of the fraternity in question. Maybe we could do a follow-up

piece. Please let me know if we could organize something. Best, Alexander Faulk It was a reasonable request, even though I knew Justin had given them the opportunity to get on the record a half-dozen times. I tapped out a reply while we checked our bags: Alexander, thank you for reaching out. I've left campus for winter break, and I will not be able to assign a staff writer to a follow-up piece until January. However, if you would like to write a letter to the editor, we could post it online until we have a chance to run a piece with your statement in it in January. Let me know if you'd like to do that. All best, Hadley I felt reassured by the reaction, though. Perhaps he had told the rest of the brothers to let him handle it. When we stepped out from baggage claim in San Francisco, the damp cooling air whispered across my neck. It felt gentle and clean. San Franciscos air was soft humid, but almost never too hot or too cold. I felt the tension in my neck and back dissolve underneath its soothing touch. I squinted through the haze of headlights, found a

cab, and gave the driver our address in Pacific Heights. My mother had kept the house in her last divorce. I had pretended not to care, but secretly I'd been happy. We usually ended up in hotels or apartments when her marriages ended. My mother would always say: Hadley, darling, the memories in that place just haunt me. But, really, when you lose five childhood bedrooms, memories start to sound like bullshit. I mean, dont memories live in your head? We pulled up to the white-brick Georgian-style house and I yawned as the cabdriver helped carry our bags up the stairs. "You good?" the driver asked. "Yes. Thank you!" I smiled and paid him and turned to the door. This is pretty, David said. I fumbled for my keys and frowned when they didnt work. "Well, that's weird. "You sure its the right key?" "Yeah. Maybe she changed the locks." I shrugged and rang the doorbell. "She never stops losing her keys. Fair warning, I think she has a new boyfriend named Sol. "That's what I like about Veronica. She really gets after it." "Oh, please," I said, rolling my eyes. I smiled broadly as the door swung open.

A man in a maroon bathrobe, holding a newspaper, gave me a long, searching look. I raised my eyebrows. Solomon was not at all what I was expecting. He was about half-a-foot too short for my mother for a start, and too old. Way too old. Well, hi there, I said. Can I help you? So, the boyfriend hadn't been expecting us. Wonderful. Solid start. Hi, Im Hadley. I held out my hand and stepped through the doorway. Whatexcuse me? Are you selling something? I did not invite you in. Im Veronicas daughter, I smiled winningly. I looked around the foyer. The entire place had been redecorated. A new maid stood by the stairs with her arms crossed. Solomon still looked totally confused. I believe youre sleeping with my mother, I said delicately. I nodded at the maid. Hi, you must be new, too. Im Hadley. So, where is she? The maid looked like she was going to faint. Roy! Who are you sleeping with? What is she talking about, Roy? What the hell are you talking about? the man asked me, turning red. I flinched. Shit. I opened my mouth and closed it. Ium. Okay. Does Veronica Mapplethorpe live here? I

squinted. I couldnt remember if my mother had kept Seths last name. Or Veronica Veronica Mapplethorpe sold us this house, Roy said. His voice shook with indignation and rage. And I am most certainly not sleeping with her, young lady. I took a step backwards, grabbing my bags, and herding David, who was grinning from ear to ear, out the door. I am so, so, so, so sorry. I thoughtyou seeI mean. I spluttered. Nobody told methere was a Were very sorry. This has been a huge misunderstanding. You have a lovely evening, David said, gracefully pulling me out of harms way and closing the door. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. David burst out laughing. Oh my god, I said. So. That was hilarious. Please tell me your mother actually lives in San Francisco and we arent homeless. I cant believe she didnt tell me that she moved, I breathed. "Focus. What's your actual address?" "That was it! "Okay. Maybe time to make a phone call." "Ugh," I said to him. What is she talking about, Roy? David

mimicked. I reached for my phone and called my mother, heart pounding. Hello? she answered breathily. Veronica. What. The. Hell. Oh, Hadley, darling, where are you? I am at what I thought was our house, I said as calmly as possible. Except for someone, not you, named Roy lives there now. Oh, darling, Ive moved. Yes, clearly. You have moved. Where to is what Id like to know. And where do you get off not telling me you sold the house? Oh, honey. And our cab is gone! I exclaimed. Ill tell Solomon to pick you up. "Are you fucking kidding?" Oh, Hadley, please dont swear. YOU SOLD OUR FUCKING HOUSE WITHOUT TELLING ME. David giggled. This is so not funny, I said to him. Well, I did send you a change of address card in the mail, she took a shallow breath and exhaled. The little pink cards? IN THE MAIL? Who does that? You cant send me a text message or an email like a normal person? You

couldnt pick up the phone Well, I think thats sort of vulgar You think it's vulgar to call me? Seriously?" "You never answer your phone." "That's not the point! Listen, tell Salmon Solomon. Whoever the fuck. Tell him to get here pronto. I mean it, I said. This is so screwed up. I firmly hit the end call button on my phone and huffed. David started laughing again. I gave him a severe look. Your face, Hadley. My god. His face. Her face, he shook his head. Amazing! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I growled at him. The house we were standing outside of, the one Id lived in when I graduated from high school, was on top of one of San Franciscos many hills. You could almost always make out the red Golden Gate Bridge through the billowing fog from my bedroom window. I had loved that window. I kicked my suitcase onto its side and sat down on top of it. David didnt speak for a moment. Sorry, he finally said. I guess it's not that funny. You grew up there." Whatever. I yawned. Im just annoyed she didnt tell me the new address.

Thats what youre annoyed about? he shook his head. Man. I mean, who doesnt tell their daughter that they moved? He laughed softly. His parents probably wouldnt tell him if they moved, but that would be a conscious, purposeful decision. My mother had forgotten to tell me. Most of the time, quite honestly, it felt like she had forgotten she had a daughter at all. A black Range Rover pulled up. David raised his eyebrows at me when the window rolled down. You Hadley? Yeah, I said grouchily. Solomon looked pleasant enough. Older than my mother, just starting to lose his hair, a friendly smile. He got out of the car to help with our bags. He wasnt wearing a power suit, just sneakers and jeans and a sweater. He offered me a hand. Im Sol. I took his hand and shook. Hadley. And this is Im David McPhee, David said with a friendly smile. Nice to meet you. Once wed gotten our bags loaded up, Sol tried to make conversation: So, Hadley, your mom tells me you want to be a journalist?

Yep, I said. He nodded. Very cool. So, how do you know my mother? I asked casually. This was a fun question to ask her boyfriends. It always made them squirm. Well, we, um, you know his voice trailed off and I smirked. Its been a month since we got married, I guess, he finally said. I whipped my head around to look at his reflection in the rearview mirror. You got what? Married. Holy shit, I muttered. My mother did a lot of crazy shit, but this was a whole new level. I was embarrassed to have David witnessing it. Sheshe didnt tell you? Sol stammered. Dont worry about it, I said brightly. Im sure the next time that I come home, youll be divorced. Hadley, David said, shocked. I cant believe she didnt tell you! I can, I said calmly. So, where did you say we were going? Belvedere. Where? I demanded in outrage. Belvedere was not in San Francisco. We had always lived in San Francisco. Belvedere, he repeated. Its just outside the city.

Oh my god, I said. That was a bigger revelation than the marriage or the house. Sometimes it felt like wed lived in countless different places, but wed only ever had one city. Belvedere. Unbelievable. I inhaled thinly and massaged my temples. This was a total disaster. Sols house was gorgeous, set about an acre back, with waterfront views. My mother wore a lavender shift dress and beige Chanel flats. She kissed me on each cheek. Darling, its so wonderful to see you. And David, love, Im so happy youre here to visit. Let me give you both a tour. Ill put their bags in the guest room, Sol offered. Oh, thank you, dear, she said. When he disappeared, I turned on her. So, youre married. And youve moved. Yes, she said calmly. I cant believe you didnt tell me. Hadley, you just always get so upset when I tell you Ive met someone or that Ive decided to move. Well, its way more upsetting that you didnt tell me at all. I literally found out from a stranger named Roy. She sighed. Im sure your guest doesnt want to hear this.

I looked at David. My mother was right. He didnt want to hear this. Hed had enough stressful Christmases. I gritted my teeth. Well, how was the wedding? I asked civilly. We hardly had a wedding, my mother sniffed. We just went to town hall. She showed us the big kitchen with its wraparound porch overlooking the infinity pool and Sols dock slip down on the bay. The house was beautiful, big, modern, and immaculate. I can show you upstairs, too, my mother said, when we reached the staircase. Thats okay, I said quickly. Were tired. Im tired. I just want to take a shower. She brought us up to the guest rooms, which were identically beige with sea foam accents. Sorry, I muttered to David once shed left us to unpack. I didnt mean to go all teenaged drama queen on you. He laughed. I kind of liked it. So, is this her fifth husband? Sixth, I shook my head. Honestly, why bother? How can you think, after five failed marriages, that its worth getting married for a sixth time? He smiled and shrugged. Maybe she loves him. Right, I said. Well, she loves you, he said, a little bit sadly.

I exhaled and closed my eyes. Yeah, I know. I know. Youre right. Im being a bitch. Im over it. Totally over it. Well have fun. In Belvedere with my crazy family.

Chapter Six
It ended up being the nicest break from school Id ever had. Sol and my mother were still in some kind of honeymoon phase, so I took David all overto the Castro, Golden Gate Park, Stinson Beach, the Ferry Building, and the old Marine bases. I love it here, David said when we were walking across the bridge, bundled in warm coats. Seriously, I do, he said fervently. Its so beautiful. And the people seem so happy. Later that day, we went to Greens for overpriced organic food and priceless views. The water came right up to the window and David sipped lemonade and told me about South Dakota. It's cold, he told me. And small. I felt like I couldnt breathe. Theres all this wide-open space, but everyone knew everyone. And it was so conservative. And you know me...Ive always had the voice and the limp wrists. I never seemed straight. His voice wavered for a moment. He seemed raw, like he was actively experiencing what it was like to be there. I just sometimes felt like I would be crushed by it. I couldnt hide it. Being gay. Being me. I couldn't hide it." He hardly ever talked about this. It hurt to hear. I tried though. God, I tried. He sighed. I think what bothers me most about it, though, is that it made me ashamed of who I was. And Im not ashamed of who I am.

And Im never going to let anybody do that to me again. I met his shining, blue eyes and saw the resolution there. I believed him.

Chapter Seven
On Christmas Eve, my mother insisted we have brunch. Alone. Without David. My mother wore Prada. I wore ripped jeans and a Free Lil Wayne t-shirt Id gotten at a college journalism conference in Ohio. She was horrified. With all of the beautiful clothing you have, I can't believe you would choose that shirt Do you want me to take it off? I asked. Because if that would make you more comfortable, I can. Dont be ridiculous, Hadley. She ordered a salad with dressing on the side. I ordered a burger and curly fries. She grimaced. So, tell me about school. Its great, I said. Im very proud of you, she said. And Im very proud of your writing. I fought the urge to say something snarky. Thanks, I said. You know, I have an old friend at Vogue. I feel like that might be just the place for you. I stared at her incredulously. Are you kidding me? Well, they have really good articles in Vogue." That may be true, but that is not just the place for me. No matter how good the articles are. Im clueless when it comes to fashion.

Youre not clueless. You just choose to dress like she paused, thinking for an inoffensive word. A slob? I suggested. A tomboy. I raised my eyebrows. Well, you should think about it. I'll email her." "Don't email her." "Don't tell me what to do, Hadley. If I want to email my friend, I will. "Okay, but I don't want to work at Vogue. I want to be a reporter anyways, not a long-form journalist." She wasn't listening. She was watching a petite brunette woman out of the corner of her eyes. "Betty Sachs had so much plastic surgery I don't even recognize her anymore." I followed her gaze. "Thats so interesting, Mom." She looked back at me. "What were we talking about?" She nodded. "Shopping after lunch. You need new boots." "I like these ones," I said defensively. "I could use a book though." "You know, Solomon and I met at a bookstore." That surprised me. "Which one?" "Barnes and Noble. I thought he worked there. He kept trying to tell me which books I should read. Anyways, he recommended so many, he insisted on paying for

them." She looked at me dreamily. Hes not like any of the other men Ive been married to. Id heard that before. Id probably hear it again. Thats nice, I said, instead of: thats delusional. "He's really the one," she said emphatically. Are you dating anyone? I had a crush on a new boy every week when I was in college. Thats more Davids style. She laughed. No one, really? Youre such a pretty girl. I shook my head. I dont have time for a boyfriend. Youre only going to be busier after you graduate. Right. Well, Ill cross that bridge when I come to it, I said. Let me give you some advice. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Youre young. You can be a little reckless, she smiled. You wont be able to be reckless when youve got a job and a family. Have some funthe beginning of a new relationship is the most fun. And youre in college. Nothing is that complicated. I thought about the boy in the parking lot. It hadnt been fun. That wasnt the right word. It had been terrifying, but in a good way. It had made my heart drop.

Not fun, but something else almost like funsomething you felt more deeply that fun. Something that made you go weak.

Chapter Eight
We flew back to Evanston three days before the semester started. David had a bag full of new cooking utensils from Williams Sonoma that my mother had given him for Christmas and I had three new pairs of shoes that wouldnt survive three minutes at a college party. We hauled our bags back to our room after midnightthe flight had been delayed and then they didnt have a gate for us, and my back was in knots. I collapsed into bed, taking off my shoes as I turned off the light. My phone woke me up before 7 AM. Justins name flashed on the screen. Hey, Justin, I said. Um, is everything okay? Yeah, I guess. Whats up? How was your Christmas? I sat up and flipped on my bedside lamp. His voice shook slightly when he responded: Okay. Um. I just got back. Yeah? Whered you go? London? he sounded unsure of even that. I sat up in bed, You sure youre okay? Yeah, I-I just... I got back last night. There are all of these texts from people about the article. And some of them are threatening and theres stuff on that campus gossip blog and my roommates not even talking to me and

Justin, slow down, I said. Whats going on? That article, he said. About hospitalizations from drinking. People are pissed off. Shit, I muttered. I had never heard back from the fraternity president after I offered to print a letter. I got out of bed and started pulling on clothes. Im kind of freaking out. Well, dont do that. Im coming over. Well figure out what to do, okay? Alright, he said shakily. I glanced out the window at the bleak morning. It looked cold. It was always cold in Evanston in January. I shouldered into a parka and ran out the door. Justin lived in the freshman dorms, which were pretty, bucolic stone buildings clustered on the quad. I swiped my ID at the door and jogged up to his room. Hey, he said. He looked like he hadnt slept. His hair was tousled, he had dark circles under his eyes, and I could see worry lines creasing his forehead. Sorry. I didnt realize it was so early. Im kind of jetlagged. I justI didnt know what to do. You called me. Thats what youre supposed to do, I smiled reassuringly at him. Let me see the emails. They were sending texts, too. I-I deleted most of them, he said sheepishly. But His voice trailed off as he handed me his phone. The first text I saw read, youre a faggot. stay the

fuck away from our frat and dont write any more lies about us. Have you responded to any of these? I asked, trying to keep my voice neutral. He shook his head. Good. Actuallywell, I asked them to leave me alone. A few times. Before I thought to call you, he said softly. And it just made it worseThey saidthey said theyd stop if we printed a retraction. Were not printing a retraction, I said flatly. Retractions are for correcting mistakes, and you didnt make a mistake. Well, I deleted my Facebook. But, now theres stuff about me on CampusRag. I fucking hate that website, I said bitterly. He smiled weakly. Right. CampusRag was a gossip blog where anonymous posters could say whatever they wanted about whomever they wanted. It was basically a disgusting mess of anonymous vitriol. Nobody deserved to be trashed on the Internet. Especially not Justin. Alright, I spoke authoritatively. Dont write back to them and dont let them think youre intimidated. But I am intimidated, Justin insisted. I justI dont know what to do. And theyre telling the whole world that Im gay, which is something I havent told most

people. Im going to handle this. I promise. I looked into his glassy brown eyes. Okay? Okay, he said softly. He closed his eyes and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyelids. He pulled off a heartbroken smile. He believed me. Thank you. Of course. I spent a few minutes on his phone, forwarding the text messages, and longer on his computer, forwarding the emails. When I was done, I smiled at him and squeezed his shoulders. This will look better in a few days. Okay. He breathed unsteadily. I looked around the small, cramped dorm room. I remembered how lonely dorm rooms could feel in the awkward days before everyone returned from Christmas break. Do you have dinner plans? He shook his head. David would like him. I mean, it would be hard not to. My roommates a great cook, I offered. You should come over. He smiled. Id like that. Good, text me when youre free. Itll be great. He nodded. Dont freak, okay? Well figure it out. I felt less sure of myself in the hallway outside of his room. There were official steps I could take to report harassment, but it was a long, arduous process and a

resolution in April wouldnt mean much to Justin now. Plus, the papers faculty advisor, Dean Canady, had gone to Romania for the break. I fired off a quick email to him from my phone, alerting him of the situation, and letting him know I was looking for the quickest remedy. I scrolled through my emails until I found the one from Alexander Faulk. While I walked to my car, I emailed Faulk, asking when he would be available to speak. I sat in the car turned on the heat and waited for him to write back. Ive never been the worlds most patient person. After a Miley Cyrus song and three commercials on the radio, Faulk still hadnt written back so I drove to the frat house. It was eight oclock in the morning. I told myself that civilized people woke up at eight oclock, which meant I was allowed to disturb the uncivilized people who were still sleeping. Maybe teach them some good habits. The frat house was charming, yellow and clapboard. I parked across the street and walked as confidently as I could up the porch stairs to the front door. I hadnt been to a frat house at Northwestern. Not because I had anything against them. I didnt. I just didnt have friends in fraternities. But this felt personal. It was hard not to hold a grudge against the organization responsible for bullying Justin.

I rang the doorbell and looked at the wide porch, which would have been inviting if it werent carpeted with crushed beer cans and cigarette butts. This is revolting, I thought. How does anyone live like this? I hit the doorbell again and then knocked loudly. I thought of Justin. I took a breath and remembered that I was here in a professional capacity. Justin. Confront it head on. Like an adult. Man to man. Woman to man. Just do it. I took a breath and knocked once more. YO! Just come in. Its unlocked! someone shouted over the faint sound of music. I pushed open the creaking door. The wide entryway was dusty, but uncluttered, and the French doors to my left were flung open to an empty lounge, where the TV was on. Hello? I called out. Nobody responded. Hello? I shouted, a little louder. Theres money in the kitchen. Just leave the pizza on the counter, the same rumbling voice called. Im not delivering pizza, I shouted back. Who the hell ordered pizza at eight oclock in the morning anyways? Shit. Hang on. He came down the stairs, buttoning a red plaid shirt. When he looked up, my heart stopped.

It was the boy from the tailgate who I had kissed. God, he looked good. And God he was the last person I wanted to see right now. I took half a step backwards like fleeing back to my car was an option. No, I told myself. Just do it. Pretend you never kissed him. Never happened. He laughed. It was a low, rolling, and pleasant sound. He ran his hand through his damp hair. I bit my tongue watching him. I really never did catch that name, he said softly. He slid his hands into his pockets and smiled at me. Hadley Arrington. Ah. Hadley Arrington. He smiled wider. Well, I knew the easiest solution to my problem wouldve been asking you, but you are very, very hard to find. In fact, I had very recently concluded that you were some sort of rainstorm mirage. Im not a mirage, I said flatly. I bet thats what you tell all the boys. My eyes quivered in their sockets, absolutely itching to roll. Listen, is Alexander Faulk here? You mean Xander? No. Hes not back from Minnesota yet. I nodded. Gotcha. Hadley Arrington, he repeated my name with a

wolfish grin, and came the rest of the way down the stairs. He sat down on the steps and tied one of his sneakers. You remember me, right? I nodded. Yes. Unfortunately, since Im not here to make friends. You honestly dont want to know my name? he asked. I looked at him, praying his name didnt belong to one of the email addresses Id culled from Justins inbox. Whats your name? I asked. Jack, he said with a cocky grin. When I didnt return the smile, he ran a hand through his hair and stood up. Im sorry. Im not being very helpful. Are you okay? You dont look like you were expecting to see me. Um, Xanders not here. But I could give you his phone number. Well, is John Diamond here? I asked. Jack smiled again. Thats actually me. Everyone calls me Jack. Well, that was just spectacular. He was the fraternitys vice-president. And therefore at least partially responsible for this. And the person Id have to confront about it. Great, I muttered. He cocked his head. I have to say, you seemed a lot happier about seeing me the last time we met. I flushed. Well, I was drunk. His eyes twinkled. You werent that drunk.

How would you know? I demanded. Anyways, Im not here to discuss tailgate. His smiled faded a little. Okay. Uh, what are you here to discuss then? Im the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Northwestern, I said. One of my staff writers is being harassed by members of your fraternity. His smile faded completely. Seriously? Seriously. He gave me a defeated look. Christ. We told them to leave it alone. He ran his hand over his face. Told who? Our sophomore class. Theyre all motherf.animals, he said. He shook his head. Damn. Well, theyre not leaving him alone. Yeah. Shit. Im sorryYou want to talk over here? He led me into a study room off of the foyer. He quickly closed the open sketchbooks on one of the bigger tables and placed them on the floor. I sat down across from him. He rested his chin on one hand thoughtfully. So, what are they doing? Juvenile, cyber-bullying crap. Ill forward you the emails. Oh, yeah, sure. Let me grab my computer. He got up and I heard his footsteps on the stairs. I focused on the crooked dartboard hanging on the wood-paneled wall. Be professional. Resolve the problem.

I forwarded the material to his email address while he went to get his computer. When he came back, he looked grim. As you can see, this is clearly crossing the line, I said formally. And while I understand that members of your fraternity didnt like the facts that were printed in Justins article, you were repeatedly contacted with a request for a comment. I let Alexander know he could talk to Justin and clarify your position My voice trailed off. He wasnt listening to me. His eyes were glued to the screen and he clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth regretfully. Ah, shit, he said wearily. This is notthis is not something I knew about. Xander either. Our sophomore class is really out of control. He ran a hand through his hair and put his screen down. Were looking into the roofie thing, by the way. Honestly, we were all really freaked out when we saw the article. I mean, I was and I know Xander was. Neither of us even had known about it. Thats why Xander emailed you. He wanted to explain. I took a deep breath. And I told him he could. Justin emailed you both, asking for a statement. Jack winced. Yeah, I know. Xander is crazy busy, though, and Im not so good with emails. Look, thats not the point, I said. If theres an update, if youd like us to print a statement, thats fine. I told you that wed do that. But this shit has to stop. He

wrote an article about student health and you guys are making his life hell. He cleared his throat. Im not behind this. He looked at me. I mean, Im not saying its not awful. It is. But this is like a few random kids. This isnt a fraternitywide effort. Well, it needs to stop. My voice sounded brittle and harsh to my own ears. I didnt want to hear about Jacks lack of culpability. He wrote an article. He tried to get a lot of you to talk to him, but none of you would. He didnt make this stuff up. It happened. It happened here. Ill talk to the guys. No, I said. I dont want you to talk to the guys. I want you to let the guys know that they can either apologize and take down the posts on CampusRag and stop emailing him, or else they can deal with the administration. Im not going to let you bully one of my staff writers out of school. Hey, he said indignantly. Im not bullying anyone. I would never say any of this shit. When youre the head of an organization, youre responsible for its actions. He shook his head. Youre confused. Im confused? They voted for me because they were stoned. You know what the vice-president of a frat does? Nothing. The position exists for a reason, and not doing

anything when the organization youre in charge of is bullying a kid makes you culpable. Look, Ill get it to stop. Good, I said tersely. You dont believe me? I shrugged. I never said that. Ill take care of it, Hadley. He met my eyes. They were cool, calm, and for some ridiculous reason, I nearly trusted them. Great. Thanks, I said. I sounded like a bitch. I had expected more of a fight, honestly. I took a breath and exhaled. Sorry. I really appreciate it. If youd get it to stop. I justI dont know. Hes a nice kid. He nodded. Ill take care of it, he repeated. I twisted my lips and snuck a look at Jack. He was staring at me. I dropped my eyes and stood up. It struck me as sad that the stranger I kissed at a tailgate, the random person I happened to notice, would reappear like this. As someone who was involved with an organization that was hurting someone I cared about. Everyone knows you shouldnt trust strangers. Shouldnt listen to them. Shouldnt take candy from them. Shouldnt get into their cars. You definitely shouldnt kiss them. Most people learn this in kindergarten. But I, Hadley Arrington, had missed that lesson. Or chosen to ignore it. I slipped on my coat, feeling like an idiot.

Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, I said seriously. Yeah, no worries, he said. Sorry about this. Really, Im sorry. He walked me to the door quietly. When we reached it, he set a hand lightly on my back. I jumped. Sorry, sorry, he said. He held his hands up where I could see them. He looked at me. Look, this is really bad timing. Whats bad timing? This, he said. He bit his lip. After tailgate I spent a while trying to figure out who you were. But nobody could tell me. Probably because I dont ordinarily act like that. He smiled. Oh. Well, thats a shame. For you, maybe. For me, definitely. He laughed. So, can I ask you to dinner or is that going to piss you off? I dont think nows a good time to talk about dinner. Yeah. I know. Bad timing. Its always bad timing, I said. Thats too bad. I stepped out of the door. Can I ask you a serious question, though? he said. Whyd you kiss me?

I shrugged. My roommate dared me. His face changed. Not dramatically, but enough to know that what I said had been hurtful. He laughed. Ha. Of course, of course. He nodded. I shouldve thought of that. I stared at the mixture of surprise and hurt on his face and swallowed. Hed leave me alone if I left now. But, I wouldnt like the unsteadiness in my stomach. I put my hand on the door to keep him from closing it. I mean. I swallowed. He dared me to kiss someone. And I chose you. I flushed, as something else crossed his face, and I pulled the door shut before I could say anything else.

Chapter Nine
You will never believe what happened, crowed David when I walked through the door. He was curled up on the couch with a book and a cup of tea. Youre telling me, I said. I shook my head and walked to the kettle, which was still steaming. He smiled at me. What happened to you? You first, I said. Ben Mitchell, he said simply. I waited for the name to ring a bell. I cocked my head and snapped my fingers. Soccer player, right? You were in love with him for a whole month sophomore year. Football player, he corrected. Tall, dark, and handsome. And I was in love with him junior year. Well, close enough. Whats up with him? I saw him today. Thats it? No, thats not it. I opened one of the cabinets in our kitchen and rummaged around for tea bags. I yawned. He asked me out. Wait-what? He asked me to go see a movie with him, David said. We had chemistry together last year. We were lab partners. And when I ran into him at the grocery store today, he just asked me to see a movie.

I hesitated. Just the two of you? Yes, just the two of us, David said. You seriously think hed ever invite me to hang out with his friends? Is heout? I asked cautiously. David waved away the comment with his hand. No, hes still in the closet, but I dont really care. Hes dreamy. I didnt like the idea of David being someones dirty little secret. Especially after what he told me in San Francisco about never allowing anyone to make him feel ashamed of who he was again. Yeah, but, I meanisnt that a big headache? Dating someone whos hiding his real identity? I asked cautiously. As previously discussed, Hadley, hes dreamy. Dreamy, he said. Plus, Im not going to hide my real identity. He can do whatever he wants. If you say so, I said. Youll still be around for dinner, right? Yeah. Im making lasagna. Can you make it for three? I asked Justin over. From the paper. Ah, the Justin that Nigel wanted me to go out with? Yes. Hope you didnt make any promises. Because I

cannot cancel on Ben. I didnt. I just invited him for dinner. I had the craziest morning. What happened? Well, I found out who I made out with at tailgate. Oh my god! Details! I made a face. His name is Jack Diamond and hes the vice-president of Lambda Pi. That frat that Justin wrote a piece on? David nodded, remembering. Yeah, yeah. And? So, basically, the Lambda Pi sophomores have been harassing Justin ever since it published. So, I went over there to find the president and see if hed get everyone under control and he wasnt there, but Jack was. It was so unbelievably awkward. Oh my god. Thats terrible. Yeah. I shook my head. Terrible. What did he say? I mean, was he behind it? No. I mean, he said he wasnt behind anything. And that hed take care of it. I rolled my eyes. But, who knows what that means? Im sorry, Hads. I waved away the apology. Please. Its Justin Im worried about. And Im not going to even think about kissing another boy until I have a job. I exhaled. David clucked. That was just bad luck. You have

to put yourself out there. No. I dont want a boyfriend, I shook my head. Long-term monogamy just doesnt run in my family. I dont need that kind of drama right now. I need a job.

Chapter Ten
David and Justin hit it off right away. Justin was a hopeless cook, but an eager apprentice and he laughed every time David threw his hands up at his attempts to dice tomatoes or roll out dough or butter a pan. David looked at Justins row of misshapen zucchini slices. Is this supposed to be an abstract art project? I want nice, evenly sliced circles. Justin giggled. I could tell he was disappointed when David left abruptly, as we were clearing dinner. Thats my ride! He planted a kiss on my cheek and gave Justin a loose hug and flounced out the door before Justin could ask where he was going. Hes a spaz, I told Justin. I was pretty sure David would lose his interest in Ben Mitchell quickly. You should come over next week, too. David cooks every Friday night. Its his way of achieving mindfulness. Justin nodded. Id like that. David didnt come home until the next morning, and when he did, he wore a big, foolish grin on his face that made me like Ben Mitchell a whole lot more. Anyone who could make David smile like that was okay by me. Something else was different, too. Usually, David gushed with details about what he wore and what he said and what he liked and what he didnt like. But David just

hummed happily when I asked him if he had fun. Oh, it was wonderful, he said simply. What did you do? Hes really great, Hadley, he smiled. I grinned at him. Details? Everything was just he sighed. Well, if youre speechless, it must have been pretty special, I said. I bit into the granola bar Id been forced to eat because David hadnt been home to make breakfast. Next time, have him sleep over, so I can get my pancakes, I said selfishly. His face fell slightly. Oh, umI know youre not gossipy or anything, but I promised Ben Id keep everything under wraps. So, dont say anything to anyone. I raised my eyebrows. Okay And, um, if you see him Well, I told him I hadnt told anyone. And then I realized, you know, that I already told you. So, if you see him, just pretend you dont know him. Okay? I was about to nod my agreement, when I stopped myself. Why doesnt he want your friends to know? Youre out. Thats not a secret. Obviously, but hes still in the closet. And its a big deal. Hes on the football team. You know, it would be a huge amount of scrutiny and You cant just tell him that your friends are trustworthy?

Hadley, could you please just not say anything? he pleaded. Im not going to say anything, I said. But you should be able to tell your friends. Just because hes in the closet doesnt mean you need to keep him a secret. David shrugged. Im okay with that. I like him. If youre sure. Im sure. I nodded and returned my focus to the USA Today job application that a Northwestern professor had sent over to me. It wasnt a perfect fitnot like the Times job in Cairo had been, but it would be a good experience working at the Washington, D.C. Bureau, reporting on domestic politics. I tried not to say something stupid or controlling, though I was sorely tempted to point out that Ben was asking him for a fairly significant sacrifice.

Chapter Eleven
I was buying my textbooks for class, muttering at the $130 list price on the new Arabic textbook, when my phone rang. I didnt recognize the number, but I did recognize the area code. 917. New York. It had to be my father responding to my request to transfer money for books. My mom responded more quickly to these things. But I liked to make my dad do it. He hardly had to do anything else for me and he could more than afford my books. Just in time, Dad, I said. Actually, this is Jack. Note to self: New York is big. Sometimes people with 917 area codes are not your father. They are sometimes Jack Diamond. Sorry. I thoughtI just called my dad and I didntnever mind. Whats going on? He was laughing. He needed to stop that. Sorry, he said. This is serious. I should be serious. We had a meeting last nightthe frat. Granted, not everyones back from break, but we told everyone to take everything down and let Justin be. They went back and deleted their comments from CampusRag. He took a breath. I want you to know how sorry I am. I want you both to know thatyou and Justin. Were not that cohesive of a group, so its hard to know what everyone is doing all the time, but we shouldve taken control of the situation

from the beginning. Im sorry we didnt and Im sorry Justin had to deal with that because we didnt. As far as apologies went, it was pretty good. I was impressed. Most people never took responsibility for their actions and even fewer people took responsibility for the actions of others that they couldve prevented. I took a breath. Thank you, I said. Im grateful. Really. I know Justin will be. Yeah, no problem, he said. I balanced another textbook on top of my stack. Im at the bookstore, so I should go, but seriously, thanks a lot, Jack. Yeah, sure. He was quiet. Well, I guess, Ill see you around, I said. Actuallybefore you go. Would you want to get dinner sometime? Or do I have to wait for your roommate to dare you again? I wouldve laughed if I hadnt been so startled. Um, what? He chuckled. Dinner? Would you want to go to dinner sometime? Can I ask you out? Ah, look, Im at the bookstore. Oh, I got it. I heard about that law. You cant agree to go on a date with anyone when youre at a bookstore. I dont think Im available, I managed to say. He didnt sound at all displeased. More than

anything, he sounded amused. Ever? You are never available for dinner? Wow. Well, I justI dont know. Im not really into dating people right now, I said. Or ever, I added silently. Well, who said anything about a date? Maybe I just want to have dinner with you. Maybe I think youd be a fantastic conversationalist. I doubt that, somehow, I said. Why? I could hear him smiling. Because in our first conversation, I was drunk and made no sense. I looked around to see if anyone was listening. And in our second conversation, I yelled at you. You didnt yell. You spoke persuasively. Well, its not a good idea, I said. It just seems like things are rapidly devolving from not making sense to anger and then like, the third conversation we have could end terribly, you know? He laughed again. Stop laughing. Im serious. Youre scared that our third conversation will devolve? Into what? Silence? That would be awkward, but I bet we could survive it. I really dont have the time to date anyone right now, I said. That sounded believable. It was certainly true. Aw, Im not going to give up that easily, he

smiled. Youre the one who started it. You shouldnt have kissed me like that if you wanted to be left alone. I Im going to swing by, he said adamantly. We can hang out. Thats a good idea. No dinner. Anti-date date. I mean, maybe. What are you doing tonight? Nothing, but Great. Ill swing by tonight. No, I dont think you understand. I said dinner wasnt good for me. I thought you said dating wasnt good for you. We wont have dinner. Itll be a non-dinner, non-date hangout session. I dont even know what that means. I just want to talk to you, he said casually. Why? He laughed. What? I think youre fascinating, he said, the same wry amusement coursing through his voice. Ill stop by tonight. He hung up before I could say anything else.

Chapter Twelve
Truthfully, I had been curious as to whether Jack actually would stop by that night. And I was oddly anticipating it, even though I thought it was a terrible idea. My fingers drummed on the countertop. The responsible thing to do would be to tell him that this was insensible, that it could never work, and that I wasnt the kind of girl who could handle dating a boy like him. Or any kind of boy at all. But, eight came and went, and I gnawed on leftover chicken, getting ready for classes to begin. It looked like he wasnt coming. I was about to change into my pajamas when there was a knock at the door. I froze, then strode purposefully to the door and opened it. Whatever I had been thinking of saying went right out of my head when I saw him. Hey, he said. He wasnt smiling, though his eyes were twinkling, and he bit his lip when he looked at me. When he was standing this close to me, I had to look up into his face, which made him seem both taller and more handsome. Hi, I said, and then I remembered I was annoyed. Its almost nine. He raised his eyebrows. Do you have a curfew or something? We have class tomorrow. He smiled. Does that mean you turn into a pumpkin at midnight? I looked at him blankly.

Vampire? Or, no, werewolf. Tonights supposed to be a full moon. Can I come in? He walked into the apartment, not waiting for an answer, and looked around. Nice place. I didnt say you could come in, I said. He smiled. Youre funny. That wasnt a joke. No, I mean, youre funny. Like, you were superhot in the parking lot and now youre super-cold. He glanced at me. Im talking in degrees of emotional warmth, not physical attractiveness. Youve been consistently hot throughout, in terms of attractiveness. Is that supposed to be a compliment? He chuckled. Not really. Although, with most girls, you can say pretty much whatever you want if you conclude by saying theyre hot. You must know some pretty dumb girls. I do, he said. But, I know you now. Thats got to cancel at least two dumb girls out. It doesnt work like that. How do you know what it works like? Are you the police of dumb girl cancellation? No, but it doesnt work like that. Nobody gets to cancel anybody else out. Maybe they do. Maybe every stupid person you know cancels out every smart person you know and every good person you know cancels out every evil person you

know. Thats right. Thats probably why everyone forgot about Jesus and Hitler, and just remembers their uncancelled out contemporaries Average Jane and Average Joe, I said. He laughed. I meant people I actually knew. Did you actually know Hitler? Maybe you are going to turn into a vampire at nine oclock. I rolled my eyes. You want to do something. Not go on a date? Yeah, I said. Lets I looked around my apartment. Go do something. I grabbed my coat from my bedroom and came back into the living room. Jack was studying a photograph on the wall. It was a picture David had taken one early spring morning when wed gone walking by the lake. My back was turned to David and you could only see part of my face. Cool picture. Thats you, right? I nodded. David took that. David? Roommate. Ah. He smiled and raised his eyebrows. The one who dared you to kiss a stranger? Yes. David sounds like the man. The last time I encouraged girls to make out with strangers like me, I

almost got arrested. I smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. So, what exactly constitutes a not-date? he asked. I dont know. Isnt this your idea? You dont know? he laughed. How the hell am I supposed to know if you dont know? I shrugged. I dont know. Going for a drive or something. A drive! he laughed. What? He shook his head. Nothing. Lets go for a drive. He followed me out of the apartment and down the stairwell to the parking lot. I stole a look at Jack. He caught me staring and smiled back. So, he said, as I got into his car. Where do you want to drive to? I shrugged. I dont know. Around. I could use ice cream. He didnt say anything about how cold it was or how far we were from Ben & Jerrys or how it was probably too late to go anywhere. I could do ice cream. There was a long awkwardly silent stretch of time, after which I demanded, So, why did you want to talk to me anyways? Why did you kiss me in the parking lot? he asked

playfully. I told you. David dared me. Right. But then you said you chose me. Why? I was drunk. He laughed. You werent that drunk. Was that your only question? I asked. Because, I can assure you that we have nothing in common. And I can also assure you that whatever youre looking for, youre not going to find it with me. You dont know what Im looking for. Not this. He stole a glance at me. Okay, so, what is this? Its none of your business, really, I said. I ran a hand through my hair. So, first youre annoyed I only have one question, and now Im not allowed to ask questions. Im not that uptight, I said, although I was certainly acting like it. Youre allowed to ask questions. Just not, okay, so what is this ? Because I really dont know. He laughed. Fair enough. He looked over at me. Why dont you ask me a question? Thats okay. Oh, come on. Surely, theres something you want to know. Youre a reporter. There were plenty of questions I wanted to ask. But there were plenty of other things I could already tell

from looking at him. Only half of being a good reporter was asking the right questions. The other half was noticing details, so you wouldnt have to ask them. Okay, I said. Whats your mother like? He looked over at me quickly. Seriously? I shrugged. You dont have to answer it. I turned my head and watched the road through the window. No, um he thought for a moment and cleared his throat. Shes very warm. And.she worries a lot. Shes very sweet about it. She seems vulnerable. She worries so much about me that I start worrying about her. He smiled, a little bit sadly. Are you an only child? I asked. No. I have a brother. Hes older. You? Yeah, I said. I mean, Im an only child. Whats that like? he asked. Not as bad as they told you. So, youre not a lonely narcissist who cant get along with anyone? Oh, no, Im definitely that, I said. I just dont fear independence. He laughed. I can tell. Whats your brother like? Perfect, he said. Totally, completely, unfucking-believably perfect. It makes me nauseous. Really. He grinned at me. He never even beat me up. Perfect. I laughed. You must hate his guts.

Nah. He shook his head. I dont actually. Well, in high school a little bit. But not anymore. I smiled. Hesserious. Youd like him. Why do you say that? Well, you seem kind of serious, he said. Hes a doctor for the Navy. Hes in Afghanistan now. He rubbed his chin. God. How long as he been there? Not too long, he said. He went to the Naval Academy and then to Harvard Medical School and now hes a trauma doctor over there. I think its been about a year and a half now. He says its okay. Hes pretty safe, because hes a doctor. Hes not that close to combat. He smiled. So, thats what my mother is like. And my brother as a bonus. What else you got? he asked. I tilted my head sideways. What do you fear? He laughed. Youre not holding back. Let me see. Eels. And jellyfish. Cant stand em. But I think Im most scared of never figuring it out. What out? Myself, he said. You know, never figuring out whatll make me really happy. That kind of thing. What are you most afraid of? Probably dependency. Dependency on what? he asked curiously. He grinned. "Drugs?"

People. He let out a short bark of laughter. Then he looked at me. Youre serious? Yeah. Dependency on people is the thing youre most afraid of? You realize that dependence on other people is like the way the world spins, dont you? You didnt build your own car and write your own textbooks, did you? I didnt say it was rational. I said I was scared of it. Thats why you wont go on a date with me? No, I wont go on a date with you because I dont want to go on a date with you, I grumbled. Or anyone else, ever. Alright. So, how does this work? Are you moving towards going all Into the Wild post-graduation? Heading out into the woods and living alone? No, I said. I meant emotional dependence more than anything else. I shrugged. Its just my answer. I know it doesnt make sense. Youd rather be alone forever than need anyone? Yeah, I said. Im good at being alone. I like being alone. Wow, he said. Yeah. That makes you happy? Being alone? Yes, actually, I said.

And what about sex? I could feel the flush creeping down my neck. Excuse me? What about sex? People are sexual. They have needs. You have needs. Listen, Ive had sex. And I wasnt impressed. He shook his head, biting back a grin. What? Im being serious. He wasnt doing it right then. He did it just fine, I said, thinking back to how I lost my virginity in high school in Lukes parents guest house, and how it had been mostly awkward and painful and way too bright in that room. It had gotten better, somewhat, but it had never been amazing. No, he definitely did it wrong, he said. Which is criminal. I could fix that though. Excuse me? He looked at me. I mean, if I were so lucky as to have the chance to sleep with you, you would be, you know, impressed. Youre extremely arrogant. Right back at you. How am I arrogant? What kind of person gives sex one chance and decides its not for them? This kind. He smiled. But, thats a little arrogant. He was

teasing, mostly. I mean, youre so sure of yourself, you think sex is overrated. I didnt say it was overrated. I said I wasnt impressed. Im just telling you whats true. I had sex. I wasnt crazy about it. When? Whats it to you? Tell me when. Thats an extremely personal question. He cocked his head. You dont have to tell me, then. I just think he was doing it wrong. I took a breath. Junior year. Was the last time you had sex? I flushed. Damn, he said. He looked at me. Dont do that. Do what? Make fun of me. Im not, he said. He shook his head. Honestly, Im not at all. He met my eyes. Did you have a bad experience or something? I took a breath. No. The sex was fine. But I broke up with the boy and he told everyone I was easy. I shrugged. I didnt sleep with anyone else after that. I didnt want anyone to think he had a point. Im sorry. Thats bullshit, he said. Its really not a big deal. Its ancient history, I

said. Well, I could see why you might not want to date people after that. Its got a lot less to do with him than you think, I said. I dont have the time, and monogamy doesnt exactly run in my family and You dont want to depend on anyone? Exactly, I said. He nodded seriously. Yeah, see, the thing about that though, is that people who dont ever want to depend on anyone, people who dont ever want to be touched, they dont jump into a strangers arms in the rain. Even on a dare. I met his warm, brown eyes. They searched me and I looked away. Well, Im sorry to disappoint you, but sometimes they do. He jerked the wheel and pulled off the road. What are you doing? He put the car in park wordlessly. Excuse me? I repeated, staring at him. I barely know you. Pulling over on the side of the road is a serial killer move. Im not a serial killer. What are you doing? He undid his seatbelt and leaned across the seat and kissed me again. Without asking, without anything that seemed like a warning.

He kissed me deeply and instead of pushing him away, I leaned in. I was surprised at the whimper that escaped my lips as he moved his mouth down my neck. I was surprised at the way my spine arched towards him and the way I wanted him to slide his warm hands farther down my ribs to my hips. When his hand slipped under my shirt, cool against my hip, I put my hand over it. Wait, stop. He pulled his head back and looked into my eyes. You want me to stop? He kept his hand there, spread on my hipnot a particularly sexual or private place, but it made me shiver. I exhaled heavily and didnt say anything. Do you want me to stop? he repeated, more seriously. I shook my head slightly, wild-eyed and unsure of everything except for a single fact: I liked being kissed by him. Even when I was sober. Even when I knew he was in a fraternity with a bunch of idiots. Even when I knew how much most relationships messed up your life, I wanted him to kiss me. He pressed his lips to mine and undid my seatbelt. Cmere, he whispered, pulling my wrist. He coaxed me over to his side of the car, so that I was straddling him. He kissed my neck, and I could feel my pulse racing underneath his lips. He leaned back and stared at me. He slid one hand under my loose, flannel

shirt and up my ribs. His other hand rubbed along the side of my leg, through my jeans. The friction was gentle, but it ran up and down my leg. I pressed my hips more closely to his. He unhooked my bra strap and kissed me again. I shivered as he slipped the straps down my arms. He nipped at my lip and at my neck while he unbuttoned my shirt. This okay? he whispered. I nodded once. He gently slipped the shirt down my arms. My bra fell with it and I looked down at him, the light catching in his eyes. He ran both of his hands up my ribs, and cupped one breast gently. His thumb ghosted across my nipple and I bit my lip, and his lips kissed their way from my mouth to my neck. He continued rubbing his thumb softly across my breast. Every brief movement travelled like an electrical current up and down my spine. I exhaled a shaky breath, pulsating with the electricity of his touch everywhere. Christ, Jack I whispered. I closed my eyes and dropped my head to his shoulder. He kissed my neck, bitingly. I hid my face in his neck, and laughed lightly, as his hand stroked my shivering stomach. He kissed me again, softly and then firmly, and then he broke the kiss and smiled.

Youre something, you know that? You said that, I said, remembering tailgate. Its true. He dropped his hot, damp mouth to one breast and I arched my back, pressing myself forward. I could feel his arousal through his jeans as he gently manipulated my breast with his tongue. I grabbed fistfuls of his hair, arching my back. Wait, I whispered. He stopped, lifting his head, his hair sticking up where Id grasped it in my hands. Wait? he repeated. This iswere on the side of a road. And its fast. This is fast. He nodded. Yeah. Okay. I suddenly felt embarrassed, sitting back and looking away and holding my shirt in front of my breasts. He put a hand to my chest, in between my breasts, very close to my heart. What? I like you, he said. He smiled, his eyes twinkling. Youre the best person Ive met all year. I met his eyes. I bet you say that to all the girls. He chuckled. He handed me my bra. My hands shook as I tried to clasp it with one hand. I managed it on my second try, and pulled on my shirt. He groaned as I lifted myself off his lap and scooted back into the passengers seat.

We were both quiet. He cleared his throat. You were saying something about not wanting to kiss me, I think. Actually, I was saying something about you being a serial killer. He laughed. And how you only kissed me because you were drunk. I could be a drunk right now. I could be an alcoholic for all you know. He smirked. Right. Dont gloat, I said. Its unattractive. He pulled the car back onto the road, towards ice cream. While we drove, I went from breathless and turned-on to flat-out annoyed that I let a practical stranger feel me up on the side of the road. What was that? I demanded when we reached Ben & Jerrys. What was what? You pulling over like that. I wanted to make sure I was right, he said. About what? About the fact that I really like kissing you. And unless Im very, very mistaken, you like it, too, he said. He had caught my gaze and I let myself stare for a second. Then, I looked away. Thats not the point. Look, you dont want to date anyone. Thats fine. But that doesnt mean we cant hang out, he said.

And do what? Make out? I demanded. There are other things we could do, he said, with a smile. Look, I want to buy you dinner. I want to take you on a date. Yeah, I said. But But youve got a hang-up. I hear you. He nodded. So, why dont we not date? And do what? Hang out. Get ice cream. I dont know. He smiled. We can have fun without getting engaged, you know? We can have fun without even dating. We can be friends. With benefits? He laughed at the suggestion. I mean, sure. We could be friends, too. Without benefits. Although we do have good chemistry. Chemistry? Sexual chemistry. We havent had sex. I know, but if we did he shrugged. It would probably be mind-blowing. Because the way we kiss is insane. Dont you think? I havent kissed enough people to know. Well, I have. And it is, Jack said matter-offactly. I believed him. Not just that we could have mindblowing sex, but that we could be friends. That maybe I

could have a no-commitment fling with a handsome guy who I actually really, really liked. Okay. Okay what? Lets be friends with benefits. He laughed. Wait, seriously? Yeah. Wait, were you joking?" No. Not at all. Are you?" We looked at each other. "I asked you first," I said. "No, I wasn't joking." "Fine," I said. "We should probably have some rules. Like what? No presents. Definitely no flowers. Im not doing your laundry, making you cookies, or coming to your formal. Dont ask me to, I said. I cocked my head. No dates. No romantic comedies. No sleepovers. No saying I love you. No buying me drinks. No Valentines Day, nicknames, baby talk, chocolate, or Taylor Swift concerts. He looked at me closely. Youre serious? Yes, I said. Why?" This feels like a trap. Why? Because you just made it against the rules to do any of the things that every guy doesnt want to do with his girlfriend.

Its not a trap. And either party can terminate benefits without any drama. There will be no drama. This is definitely a trap. Do you have anything to add? I asked. Yeah. Dont call me babe. I wont call you babe." We walked into Ben & Jerrys and I ordered a vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. We sat in his car with the heat turned on high while we ate. He started laughing to himself when hed finished his. What? I asked. Nothing, he smiled. You are just way more interesting than I couldve ever predicted. You can say crazy, I said. He nodded. "Yeah, I know. But I wouldn't mean it. Interesting."

Chapter Thirteen
David was quiet the first week of classes. And I was sending a boy flirtatious texts. Neither of these things had happened before, so I probably wouldve been worried about a coming apocalypse if I hadnt been so fixated on how to survive Robert Rileys graduate-level combat and conflict journalism class. I was thrilled about getting into the class. Riley was a legend. He had won two Pulitzer Prizes when he covered the conflict in Bosnia during the '90s. But I was also afraid I wouldnt meet his notoriously high expectations. Gruff and tough, he was rumored to fail students with a single grammatical error in their final assignments. And the class was mostly composed of graduate students. Andrew and I were the only two undergraduates who had been given permission to take it this year. I slept fitfully the night before Rileys class although that was partly due to the eight cappuccinos Id had while excising stylistic errors from the newspaper before it went to press. Still, I arrived early, like everyone else, and I sat with Andrew while we waited for Riley to walk in. He appeared in a half-zip sweater, with a limp from the shrapnel that had been embedded in his leg when he was caught in a roadside bombing early in his career.

He tossed a folded copy of the New York Times onto his desk. First of all, welcome. Second of all, you should know that I dont tolerate lateness or unexcused absences. You dont show up, you better have a doctors note, because youre lucky to have a seat in my class. Youre lucky to be studying journalism at all. And as soon as you forget that reporting is a privilege that should be afforded only to the most committed and well-disciplined individuals, you are going to fuck up. And if you fuck up in journalism, people get hurt. When you print lies in a newspaper, you make them true. And if you get lazy, you will end up printing lies, whether or not youre aware of it. That is why, in this class, I wont stand for anyone cutting corners, no matter how insignificant they may seem. I exchanged glances with Andrew. Riley was hardcore. The door swung open and everyone turned to look at the pour soul foolish enough to show up five minutes late to Rileys class. And then my heart jumped into my throat, because it was none other than Jack Diamond, lanky, lean, and impossibly handsome, with a slow Cheshire cats smile that seemed to be just for me. Professor Riley cleared his throat. Jack! What a nice surprise. I closed my dropped jaw and stared at him. Jack nodded. Whats up? He waved at mehe

wavedand then he looked back at Riley. So, did you decide to audit? Riley asked him. Jack shrugged and flashed him a smile. Still on the fence about that one, Bobby. Bobby? Bobby. Did he just say that? I waited for Robert RileyPulitzer laureate, famous journalist, extraordinarily grumpy professorto vault over the dais and claw Jack Diamonds eyes out. But that didnt happen. Youre welcome anytime, Jack, Riley said paternally. Jack climbed to the very back row, where nobody else was seated. It took me a moment to tear my eyes away from him and look instead at Riley. Some of the most crucial moments in history are recorded by combat journalists, Riley was saying. And it takes more than damned good writing for those moments to be recorded accurately. It takes discipline and patience and extraordinarily difficult and dangerous work I tried to focus on Professor Robert Riley. I let his voice drown out the questions I wanted to ask Jack, until Id almost forgotten they had ever been there. I didnt notice when Jack slipped out of the class, but he was gone when Riley dismissed us.

Chapter Fourteen
As Jack had promised, Xander emailed Justin to apologize on behalf of the fraternity. Justin found me after our staff meeting to express his gratitude. It means a lot, he said sheepishly. I mean, just thank you. Hey, I said readily. Thats my job. No need to thank me. We left the office together after the meeting, and I turned the issue over to Andrew for the night so I could have my phone interview with USA Today. How are things otherwise? I asked. Okay, he said. He rubbed the back of his head. I mean, Organic Chemistry is killing me slowly, but other than that, Im good. I laughed. Already? Its a monster, he said. My brain does not understand. Youll get it. Yeah. I might have to slow down on the paper, though. Sorry. Next year should be easier. I know I havent written that much. I totally understand. Not a problem, I said. Thanks, Hadley. Wed reached the end of the path where I turned left towards the parking lot and he turned right towards his dorm.

Have a good night, Jus. Ill see you around. Hey, um he shrugged. You said David cooked every Friday? Yeah, I said. Oh, right. You should totally come over this week! Yeah? he nodded. Cool. Id like that. Awesome. David will be happy. Yeah? Justin asked hopefully. Definitely. I thought the flirtation with Ben would end soon. David had been moody and quiet. Hed been avoiding his other friends when he left the apartment, and impatiently waiting to hear from Ben most other nights. I couldnt imagine him putting up with it for much longer. Itll be fun. Im glad youre coming. Have a good night. Thanks. Good luck with the interview, he shouted after me. The interview was okaya lot of informational questions. Nothing that threw me off my game, but nothing I could hit out of the park either. They told me theyd be in touch to set up an in-person interview, which felt like a victory. After I hung up the phone, David came in. I walked out of my room to see him. Justins coming over for dinner tomorrow. I think he likes you. Who?

I raised my eyebrows. Justin Shelter? Oh, he said. Right. He looked thinner and tired. That couldnt be right. He couldnt have lost weight in a week. It was his clothing, I realized. He was drowning in a baggy polo shirt and khakis. I had no idea where hed even gotten them, but it was so not his style. Are you okay? He shook his head, as if he were snapping out of a trance. Sorry. He smiled more genuinely. Im good. Tired. I spent the night at Bens. He looked at me dreamily. Hes really great. Yeah? When can I meet him? I ventured cautiously. I told you. You cant. Not until hes ready and thats not going to be for a really long time because of football. I nodded my head once. Well, is he your boyfriend? No. No. Definitely not, he shrugged. Hes not ready for that. Which is fine. I can totally wait. I didnt buy it. He sounded pretty sad. Well, do you have plans Friday? After dinner? No, probably not. Ben has plans with his teammates. And David wasnt invited. Maybe we could go out after dinner, I said.

You, me and Justin. He smiled. You want to go out? Yeah, I said. I told Jack Id think about it. And I think you should introduce Justin to some people. To people? In the gay community, I said. Hes a freshman, remember? Oh, yeah, David said noncommittally, Look, Ben asked me to sort of tone it down. Tone what down? You know, the whole thing, he said very softly. What whole thing? Just the off-the-walls gay thing. Im sorry. What? I said incredulously. Tell me thats a joke. Hadley, he said. I know you dont understand, but I really like him. And hes been really good to me, David said, almost pleadingly. By asking you to tone down your personality? Not my personality, he said. I dont have to be so out there, you know? I looked at him, in utter shock. Yeah, he sounds really wonderful. Id like to meet this kid. Hadley. No, I really do. I want to see who's put the crazy idea in your head that your personality is something to be ashamed of.

My phone rang on the counter. David looked at me. Are you going to get that? This is more important right now. David got to his feet and shrugged. I dont see why youre making me feel bad about a relationship Im excited about. Im not trying to make you feel bad about your relationship. Thats what youre doing, though, David responded coldly. Im going to bed. David, I called after him. He closed the door softly. I knocked on it. Hadley, I want you to leave me alone, he said. I sighed deeply. David, come on. Im sorry. Dont worry about it, he called back. Im tired. Im going to sleep.

David made himself scarce Friday morning. I heard him grab a cup of coffee and leave the apartment around 7. And he didnt respond to my text when I asked if we needed anything for dinner while I was on my way home that evening. I really hoped hed be there to let in Justin. I was starting to worry he was so angry with me that he wouldnt show up. I reached the apartment, praying David would be

home. And he was. He was making fajitas, and he and Justin were already drinking. Gorgeous, youre here, David said, slurring his words. Justins culinary skills have improved tremendously. He did an amazing job with the margarita mix. He sounded like his usual self and he was dressed that way, too. He wore tight jeans on his pin-thin legs, a bright pink shirt, and a fedora while he poured me a margarita. He handed it to me with a broad, frankly frightening grin. Are you wearing a shirt with those stockings? I asked with an arched eyebrow as Justin gave me a warm hug and laughed. I changed into tighter jeans and cuter boots, and a black tank top David recommended. Jack wanted to meet up tonight, and for the first time that I could remember, I was excited to go out. I sipped the lethally strong margarita that Justin had thrust into my hand. I even did my makeup, tossing my head to the music. It was fun. I was having fun, and that wasnt a bad thing. Id survived not getting the New York Times job. I had a friend with benefits. And the sky had not fallen. It was mostly okay. You are definitely not washed-up yet, David said when I reentered the room. Right, Justin? Justin nodded his assent and smiled at David.

Who said I was washed-up? David raised his hand. Me. Like all first semester. Thanks a lot, pal. I mean, you never looked that washed-up. You just sort of dressed that way. Oh, shut up, I said. I ran my hand through my hair. Jack will be there. Fabulous, David said. He looked at Justin. Hadley is a committed spinster but she has a friend with benefits, courtesy of me. I rolled my eyes. David got up from his seat and caught his reflection in the mirror. Does this outfit look okay? I finished my margarita. Of course. David fussed in front of the mirror. I feel like Ben wouldnt like this. Whos Ben? Justin asked. David opened his mouth and then closed it. Ben Cho, the fashion designer, my icon. I raised my eyebrows. What? Hold on. Im changing. He came out of his room half an hour later wearing something decidedly un-David. Khakis and a blue polo shirt. He ran a hand through his hair and turned to me. How do I look? Like youre from Nowhere, Nebraska?

David flinched slightly and Justin gave me a dirty look. I like it, Justin said softly. Sorry. You look nice. Justnot very you. I dont want him toI dont want to scare him off. By being yourself? I asked. David looked at Justin and then at me. Lets not talk about this right now. I met his eyes and inhaled deeply. Alright. Whatever you say. I stole a glance at David nervously pushing his hair off his forehead and studying his reflection. You look good. You always look good, I said, seeing the apprehension on his face and hating that someone had made him feel so uncomfortable in his own skin. Oh my god, everything just got so serious, David said. He laughed. I swear were not usually this emotional, Justin. He turned up the music. Who wants another margarita? Justin and I both accepted another drink. Pretty soon wed forgotten the weird moment and lost ourselves in the musical genius that was Ke$ha. David started bouncing on his toes and twisting his hips and knees. I joined him. My heart pounded loudly in my ears with the music, and my legs shook from jumping. I collapsed on the floor, hair over my face. David, I cannot

go anywhere. I need to stay here with the margaritas. Oh my god. Time to go to the bar, he said. Hadley, get up. You do not get to pass out. Im not passed out. Im just out of shape. I sat up and shook out my hair. Lets go. We walked to the bar. When I thought about seeing Jack there, my stomach twisted slightly. In a good way. In the best way. The Pub was the kind of bar that every college town has. Sticky floors, stumbling freshmen, rocking, loud pop music, condescending bartenders who really didnt like any of their customers, and pretty much everyone you knew from campus. The first person I saw was Andrew Brenner. Hey, Andrew said, putting a hand on my back. Good to finally see you out. Yeah. Thanks, I smiled. You know, I do go out. I know. I know. Thats not what I meant. He chuckled. Can you believe the wind chill? The humidity is out of control. I nodded. Crazy stuff. Justin raised his eyebrows and bit back a laugh. You know each other right? I said. Of course. Loved the article, Andrew said, shaking his hand. Wheres your roommate? I looked around, but David had vanished into the

crowd. I saw Nigel in a corner and waved. He might know. I have no idea, I told Andrew. We should find him. Well be right back. David and I walked over to Nigel. Hads, he said. He gave me a warm hug. Justin. Awesome to see you out. Hows it going? Good. Nigel nodded at Trevor. Justin, this is my friend Trevor. Trev, Justin. Justins a freshman in GSA. Awesome. You guys seen David? Trevor made a fluttering gesture with one hand. Prince David is giving us the silent treatment. After all, we arent on the football team. And wearing something awful, Nigel said. He looked at me. Whats with him? I shook my head. Long story. Hes over there, Nigel said. He pointed him out to him. Pretending not to see us. He was standing alone, looking sort of sad and uncomfortable, holding a beer near a pack of rowdy football players. I saw Ben Mitchell, too, pointedly ignoring him. Bullshit. This was stupid. And it made me furious. You want a drink? Trevor asked me. Were

drinking and dancing. I shook my head, watching David, wishing I could shake his shoulder and make him snap out of it. But I knew it wouldnt work. What about you, Justin? Drink? Trevor asked. Yeah. Definitely! Hadley, do you mind? No, no, go ahead, I motioned at them. Meet us at the bar if you change your mind, Nigel called. The three of them disappeared. I kept my eye on David, glancing at my phone occasionally, wondering if he would mind being seen with me, or if it was just his gay friends that Ben had told him to avoid. Ben was still ignoring him. I decided to go get him. At least, he didnt need to be alone while he was being ignored. I turned and I bumped directly into Jack at full speed. He was holding two beers and stepped back, only barely sloshing them. Heyo, Jack said. He smiled. I was trying to get your attention. He handed one of them to me and I looked at it, wondering if I should point out that he wasnt supposed to buy me drinks. I feel like youre accident prone, he said. He was wearing plaid. Navy with red. It looked good on him.

He looked like Jake Gyllenhaal. Too good for a college bar. Too good for a college girl who hadnt slept with anyone since junior yearof high school. Sorry, what? I said, pulling my eyes away from his body, feeling like an idiot frat boy, caught objectifying a hot girl in a Halloween costume. I said I feel like you might be accident prone. Thats how we met. You falling? he gave me a grin. You were in my way. He laughed. I guess. My bad. He smiled. You like beer? I got one for you, because Im the kind of person who makes assumptions. Thanks. So, whats up? he asked. I looked up at him and lifted my shoulders. Not much. I was, um I glanced over at where David had been standing. Ben was finally talking to him, although he had his arm wrapped around some blond girls waist. I was about to get my roommate. Roommates are awesome. Lets find him. How much have you had to drink tonight? I asked. He laughed. I dont know if I should tell you that. You might put it in your newspaper. Trust me. Youre not that interesting and were not that desperate yet, I said. Yet? He shook his head. Thats not a very

strong sell. Well, the answer is not that much. Its a crowded bar. Somebody pushed me. And you make me nervous. I smiled at that. Bullshit. He tilted the neck of his beer bottle towards me. I bet you get that all the time. I shook my head. No. I never get that. He laughed. Well, maybe everyones too nervous to say anything. I tried to think of something witty to say back, but I was watching David downstairs at the bar, with his arms crossed tightly over his stomach. He was alone, nobody was talking to him. It broke my fucking heart. I could see how Ben glanced over, occasionally, and how each time David looked briefly hopeful and how each time Ben averted his eyes. Seriously? I muttered bitterly. Sorry, Jack said. Is that not allowed? Im sorry. What were you saying? I asked him, not taking my eyes off of David. I needed to go down there. Ah, your week? I asked if you had a good week. Yeah, it was fine. Everything okay? Yeah, I said. My roommate is being an idiot. You want to go find him? he said. I nodded. I took a sip of the beer and made a face.

He laughed. You dont like beer. Good to know. Youre not supposed to buy me drinks. Youre right, he said. Give it back. He reached out his hand for it. I smiled, in spite of myself. It has my germs on it. So, whats up with the roommate? he said. Its a long story. I looked around for Ben and saw his back retreating towards the door. Bastard. David was still cradling his phone. When it lit up, so did his face. I leaned my arms on the railing to watch. Jacks voice was quiet in my ear. That him? Yeah. You can tell me the story, he said. Even if its long. I told him I wouldnt, I sighed. Well, go talk to him if you need to. Ill wait here, Jack said. I nodded. Yeah. Yeah, okay. Thanks. Sorry. No worries, he said. He looked around. Ill guard your railing. I smiled, wishing I could enjoy Jack instead of worrying about David. I walked back downstairs past the crowd in front of the bar and found him. I tapped him on the shoulder. Hey.

David whirled. Hadley! Hey. I smiled. You okay? He nodded and beamed. Ben just texted me to meet him. So Im going to go. I nodded once. Got it. He met my eyes. Sorry. He looked around. Do you want me to stay with you? Is Jack here yet He bit his lip apologetically. I know I told you Id introduce Justin to some people but Bens Dont worry about it, I said. Ill see you at home. He nodded. Have fun. He hugged me. He didnt look back while I watched him leave. Jack was waiting for me, as promised. He was the kind of person who didnt look uncomfortable alone. He took up a lot of room, leaning over the railing, one beer resting at his elbow, nursing another one at his lips. Everything cool? he asked. No, it wasnt, but I nodded. Yeah. I smiled. So, I saw you this week. You did. We made out in my car. He smiled. You let me feel you up. Then you said I wasnt allowed to date you. I remember, I said. I meant in Rileys class. Ah. I think you called him Bobby. He nodded. I wouldnt recommend trying that.

I wasnt going to. Hes terrifying. Hes harmless, really. How do you know him? Hes my godfather, Jack said. We go way back. Oh, okay, I said. Howd that end up happening? Oh, you know, Jack said. I insisted on it as soon as I was born. He grinned. Nah, my dad knew him. I nodded. Gotcha. He thinks I want to be a photographer. Do you? No. I dont want to be anything. He smiled. But I like to humor him. It makes him feel like hes doing a good job as a godfather. You like the class? Yeah, I do. Hes amazing. I grew up reading his books and his articles and Of course. Thats why youre Editor-in-Chief. Yeah, that and a long masochistic streak, apparently, I said. Really? Jack said wickedly. He smiled. Tell me more about your masochistic streak. Is that like a Fifty Shades Oh, for fucks sake. I meant its a lot of work and its pretty thankless. Alright, he said. He laughed into his beer.

Ah He looked back at me, chuckling. Want to dance? Sorry? Do you want to dance? he nodded at the dance floor. You didnt make a rule against that. I squinted at the dance floor. Im not a good dancer. You just havent had enough to drink. Everyones a good dancer when theyre drunk. Are you a good dancer? Amazing, he said. Cmon. I followed him downstairs past the bar to the dance floor. He grabbed my hips and Id had just enough to drink to not care who saw. I wrapped my arms around his neck. He pulled me close, and he moved against my hips. Yeah, he was a good dancer. I was not. And I dont think there was enough alcohol in the world to make me one. But, he didnt seem to mind, so I held onto his shoulders and moved when he moved and spun when he spun me. And we laughed. Every time I did something stupid, he started laughing and so did I. I kept spinning the wrong way. His feet kept slipping and he kept grinning each time, gripping my forearms, pressing his forehead to mine, his laughter low and gravelly close to my ear.

When a slow song came on, he shook his head. This against the rules? I shook my head. This is the only kind of dancing in which I dont feel like a spaz. I felt small in his arms and I couldnt remember feeling small before, and warm. Too warmreallybut I didnt want to let go. I could feel every place where we touched. He grinned. Its too hot. Yeah, I agreed. We need drinks. Yeah. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me towards the bar. He got the bartenders attention. Jack! the bartender said. He grinned and they shook hands and bumped shoulders. "Xander, this is Hadley." He nodded and grinned. "Right. Nice to meet you." I shook his hand. "You're the one who seems like a trap, right?" Xander asked. "Shut up," said Jack. I think so, I said. Xander laughed. "Do you like tequila?" I shrugged. "I don't know. I like margaritas." Xander nodded and poured four shots skillfully, pushing them towards us. "On the house," he said, turning

to a girl shouting for his attention. I looked at Jack. "I don't know about this." Jack grinned and licked his hand, shaking salt along his hand. He reached for my wrist and pressed a damp kiss beneath my pulse point. Without looking up at me, he poured salt along the imprint of his mouth. It stung slightly, the salt, where it clung to my skin. He handed me a shot glass, tapped his against mine, and licked the salt and downed his, biting down on a lime last. I spluttered with the mouthful of salt and alcohol. "Bite it," he said, holding out a lime while my eyes streamed. I did, turning away from him as the juice dripped down my stinging hands. I winced. "Blergh. Oh my god," I said. "I'm sorry, that was incredibly inelegant." He laughed. "Another?" I shook my head. "I don't think so." A slim, gorgeous redheaded girl who I knew was the president of Kappa-something, slipped by us. "Shots?" Jack asked her, offering our leftovers. "Oh my god, love you," she said, taking them. She grinned at me. "Hey! Are you rushing? How do you know Jack? "Sorry?" I asked. "Are you rushing? You are, right? I think I saw you

at our event today. I'm the president of Kappa Delta. Let me know if you have any questions at all. We mix with Jack's frat all the time." "Oh, no, I smiled. Im actually a senior. She frowned. "Oh my god! Sorry. I'm totally mortified. I'm sorry." "No worries," I said. "I'm Hadley." "Reese." "Nice to meet you," I said. Jack laughed again. "See you around, Reese," he said. He wrapped his arm around me. Its too fucking hot in here, he said, pulling at his thick flannel shirt. His hair was damp with sweat. Mine was, too, but it was a good look on Jack. It made him look strangely alive. Want to get back out there? he nodded at the dance floor. I pulled my hair into a high ponytail. The air against my neck felt delightful. Sure, I said. The alcohol and the heat got to me quickly. Jack got cuter and cuter. We danced and danced. My legs ached. And every time he spun me, I started to laugh. "You want to get out of here?" he asked, when we were both breathlessly and giggling. I looked at him. His sweat-soaked hair, his rumpled plaid shirt. And I said exactly what I wanted to say. Yeah. He pulled me through the crowd and out the door

into the winter night. For five fleeting seconds, we both stood in the chilled air without our coats. This feels so good, he said holding out his arms and walking up the sidewalk, in between two banks of snow. But we quickly started to shiver and I pulled on my down coat and he slid on a Patagonia fleece and stuffed his hands in his pockets. So, whats your deal, Hadley Arrington? No deal, I said. Please. Everyone has a deal. Whats your deal? Im an underachiever, he said. He smiled. Your turn. I grimaced. I bet youre an overachiever. Not really, I said. He glanced at me. Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper?" I shrugged. I like it. Because youre a masochist? Becausebecause I feel like Im actually creating something instead of just...flopping around aimlessly. See, I flop, Jack said. You should try it. Its not nearly as dreadful as you just made it sound. It has some advantages.

Like what? Well, youre never disappointed in yourself. Flopping is easy. The frat house wasnt farfour hundred or so yards down the road. And we walked through the unlocked front door to the sounds of video games and the smell of pot. I crinkled my noise and he laughed. Come on. His room was upstairs, down the hallway and in a corner. It was small and cozy and absurdly clean. He had countless books, lined on shelves. And an open sketchbook on his desk. I walked over to glance at it, but he closed it before I got there. I didnt know what to do with myself, where to sit, what to say, or how to say it. I looked at him and tried to sound cool. So, what do you want to do? He closed the door and put his hands lightly on my waist. His hands had rested there all night, but the dancing had been more about fun than about sex. Now the light hands made my heart beat quickly in anticipation. He leaned forward and kissed me again, pushing me back onto the bed. "Jack..." He stopped kissing me and frowned. You okay? I rolled my eyes, took a breath, and disentangled myself from his grip. "Fine. So, how do you know Reese?" He grinned. "The most clueless girl on campus? How could I not know her?" He raised his eyebrows. "I'm

guessing you never went in for the sorority thing." "I went to rush," I said. "Seriously?" I nodded. "Yeah, I was trying to cut through the student center to get to the library, went right through some kind of cheer. Lots of clapping. Very weird." "Ha. I thought so." He got up from the bed and took off his shoes. He started unbuttoning his shirt. I watched him pointedly. He grinned, unabashed. "So, Hadley Arrington." "Yes," I said. "You're not a bad dancer." "I'm not a good dancer either." He smiled. "Don't be so hard on yourself." "I don't get flowers and you don't get to lie to me," I said. "Okay, you're not a good dancer," he said. "I'm devastated," I said. "I bet. He pointed a finger at me. You're an overachiever." "Completely devastated. There are almost no serious journalists who can't dance." He grinned, his eyes crinkled, and he tossed the sweat-soaked shirt on top of his dresser. His wide shoulders were smooth and brown, like hed been in the sun, despite the fact it was January in Illinois. A thin white scar ran from his left rib to his right groin, diagonally

splitting his rippling muscles. I met his eyes, feeling panicked. Howd you get that? Slip and slide, he said. There was a sharp rock underneath the slide. And I had to go down first. Of course. I winced, imagining. Yeah, he said. He smiled, eyes sparkling. Dont try that one. Ill keep that in mind. "So, I have a question, he said. "Shoot," I said, trying to sound calm. I got to my feet and took off my coat and draped it over the back of his desk chair. "Am I freaking you out?" "No. Why?" "You seem ready to bolt." "I'm not going anywhere," I said. I sounded kind of like a coke addict, though. I didn't even believe I wasn't going anywhere. I cocked my head and he stepped towards me. Relax, Jack murmured. He pressed his lips against my neck. I am relaxed. Bullshit, he whispered. A smile played at the corners of his mouth when he kissed me. He spun me around so I was facing him and walked me back to the

bed. I sat when we reached its edge. He then leaned forward, pressing me back onto my elbows. I thought he was going to kiss me, but he dropped his head next to my ear and whispered, We dont have to do anything if you dont want to. Says Jack as he pins me down. He laughed softly in my ear. The breath was warm against my neck. He moved his mouth from my ear to my mouth and kissed me. Maybe I'm nervous." You dont get to be nervous. Im nervous, he said. He kissed me again and I smiled, breaking the kiss. "But I'm an overachiever." Youre not going to underachieve in bed, he smiled. Not with me anyways. I closed my eyes, lifting one hand up to his strong jawbone, and kissed him. My fingers tangled in his soft, still-damp hair. My heart started racing, like it was going to explode. Well, I could be rusty? Shut up, he whispered gently. He lifted me up and slid me further back on the bed, so I was lying underneath him. I could feel his heat, but he braced his weight on his own hands. And he kissed me again. I broke the kiss abruptly, pulling my head aside and sitting up. He sat back on his heels. Okay? he put his hand on my lower back. I nodded.

Too fast? Yeah. What do you want? This. Just. Not sex. Not tonight, I mean, I managed. I looked at him. Sorry. I want to. Just not so fast. And I wanted to say something before we got ahead of ourselves. He nodded. I never took that for granted. I nodded. Good. He smiled and coaxed me onto his lap. I straddled him and put my hands on his shoulders. They were warm. His cool fingers ran up my ribcage, he dropped kisses along my collarbone. He pulled me closer. I felt him beneath me. He reached for the hem of my shirt and pulled it over my head. He unhooked my bra gently with one hand and bit one strap and pulled it down my arm. His teeth scraped ever so softly against the hairs on my arm. I shivered as he thrust up slightly and dropped his mouth gently to my breast. I ran my hands through his hair. You taste like vanilla, he said, lifting his mouth. He stood up, lifting me with him and knelt onto the bed and dropped me onto my back. You taste like beer and tequila, I replied. He smiled. Thats what I brush my teeth with. So, were just going to have a long make-out

session? A shirtless make-out session, he teased. I think the kids call it second base. I smiled. Benefit of the friendship? He nodded. Absolutely. We made out until our lips ached. And when we had stopped, we lay silently against each other. I felt sleepy and I laughed, reached for my shirt, and said I had to go. He sat on the stoop and waited with me for the cab, both of us shivering. I leaned back on my hands, breathing in the cold air. He was easy to be near, when he wasnt making me nervous, and after rolling around in his bed shirtless, I wasnt nearly as nervous. We should do something fun, Jack said, when the cab came. Not a date, he said when I gave him a look. Like some kind of friend thing. What do you do for fun? The newspaper. Thats fun? Yeah, I nodded. It is, actually. I meant it too. It could be stressful, but it was voluntary. I liked it. He smiled. Well, we can read some newspapers. Maybe you should be in charge of fun. And you can be in charge of achievement? Ill be in charge of rules.

He chuckled and walked me down the path towards the car. Ill see you around, Hadley. Later, pal. I heard him laugh as I got into the car. He watched me leave. There was something about that that I liked. And something else about that scared me a little.

Chapter Fifteen
By one oclock, my hangover was starting to get the better of me. I couldnt remember comma rules, and I kept missing split infinitives and all the other nasty grammar mistakes that riddled freshmens articles. When the door to the offices swung open and Andrew appeared, I let out a sigh of relief. He held two large Starbucks cups. He handed me one. I love you almost as much as I love coffee. He looked over my sweatpants and the empty Pedialyte bottles on my desk. Rough night? Oh, not really. He laughed dubiously and nodded. Right. Hey, at least I showered this morning, I said. This is why I dont go out, I informed him. Socializing melts my brain. I think thats probably just the alcohol, he said. Youre awfully judgmental this morning, Brenner. Sorry. He yawned. Tired, I guess. Did you find David last night? Yeah, I did. Finally. He was wearing a polo shirt. Confused the hell out of me." He leaned over my shoulder to look at the article I was reviewing. Verb agreement, first paragraph. He tapped the screen. Shit. I should not be copyediting right now, I

said. I fixed the mistake and reached for my coffee. So, I was talking to Juliet, and she thinks we should do something big for Valentines Day. I gave him a look. Like what? Im not putting Valentines day on the cover. What about a special edition? Like a six-page, Love at Northwestern thing. That needs six pages? We gave Obamas reelection six paragraphs, I said. Oh, dont be such a Grinch. It would be great for readership, he said. Like, we could do an article on LGBT life, Greek life, and Juliet had this idea to do like a Secret Admirers section for a week. And where would we put the Secret Admirers? Before the sports section or after the international section? I demanded sarcastically. Would you just think about it? Andrew said. Its not a bad idea. You could write an editorial on why youre opposed to Valentines Day. Im not opposed to Valentines Day. Im just not giving it six pages in my newspaper. Your newspaper? he repeated. You know what I mean. Im the first girl to be Editor-in-Chief in nine years. Im not presiding over the first Valentines Day Special. You should consider it, he said seriously. I think its sort of unfair that youre shooting it down

because you dont want people to think youre too girly. If I were the Editor-in-Chief, Id do it. I sighed. Can we just focus on this issue and worry about Valentines Day closer to Valentines Day? Fine, he said. But think about it. Seriously, think about it. We could get people to write about their love lives. It could be a mix of opinion pieces and news stories. Look, we always talk about culture at Northwestern, and love lives are a big part of culture. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Lets talk about it tomorrow. I just dont have the energy right now. He smiled, albeit frostily. Okay.

Chapter Sixteen
Im in love, David declared when I got back from the newspaper around 11 on a Saturday morning. "I don't have time for your love," I said. "I was about to report you missing. I haven't seen you for a week. You missed dinner on a Friday." He smiled as he poured batter into a waffle iron. "I've been here." "When have you been here?" "I was here Tuesday night." I rolled my eyes. "And you'd be too busy to notice otherwise," he said. "I know when you stop making your bed." When my schedule felt crazed, I stopped sleeping underneath the covers so I didnt have to make my bed in the morning. I hated making my bed. It was wedged in a corner, and I couldn't get the bedspread flat unless I yanked the frame all the way out. "Waffle?" I nodded, grudgingly. "Please. So, I guess things are going well with Ben?" He beamed. "Yes. Plate." I pulled a plate down from the cabinet over the sink and handed it to him. "Well, I missed you," I admitted. He smiled. "I bet you were here for five minutes." "Still," I said. So tell me.

He sighed and fluttered his eyelashes dramatically. "He's dreamy." I dumped syrup on my waffles. "Actually, spare me the details." David laughed. "I'm kidding. Its good though. I really like him, Hadley." Are you going to need more polo shirts? Maybe, he said. But who really cares? You should, I said. I took a bite of the waffle. He shrugged sadly. You dont get it. Sorry, I muttered. I just feel likeI dont know. I feel like you shouldnt have to dress differently for the guy youre dating. I mean, if I ever started doing that, youd hit the fucking roof. Yeah, thats different. How? I asked. Because, youre straight and everyone you date is straight, he said. If some guy wanted you to change, it would be controlling bullshit. Ben has to protect himself. From people finding out who he is? Who you are? I shook my head. David, that doesn't make any sense." Hes on the football team. The season is over and hes a senior, I pointed out. "He really thinks people are so homophobic that he can't be seen with you?" He wants to go pro. Davids mouth hardened

into a thin line. Look, you dont understand it because youre not gay. He doesnt want people to know. Hes scared. Its not about changing me. Its about being scared. And Im willing to deal with it, alright? I stared at him. "Or is that not alright with you?" David demanded. "If you're comfortable, then alright. But you didn't look comfortable last weekend when he was ignoring you. I don't think it's healthy. Im sorry. I know thats not what you want to hear and I know its your life and your decision, but, there are a lot of guys out there who wouldnt ask you to change How would you know? David asked angrily. David, I said softly. Youre like the most lovable person I like Ben. I want to date Ben. And if this is what I have to do, Im going to do it. And I dont need you to judge me for it. Alright. Youre right. Im sorry, I said. I took a deep breath. "Sorry. That's not what I was trying to do." I shook my head. "I don't know. It just makes me nervous. But, I shouldn't be judgmental. Sorry." I took another bite of the waffles. I'd drowned them in syrup and they were sticky and oversweet. I went to the refrigerator and poured a glass of milk and took a sip. "The waffles are good," I said, just to clear the air between us.

Thanks." He bit his lip. "Actually, I have a favor to ask." Yeah, sure." I asked Ben over for dinner tonight and he won't be comfortable if you're here." He looked worried. "I was going to cook. Um, do you think you can find something to do? Somewhere else? Sure," I said, in a falsely high voice. "That's great. I've got things to do. I'll stay out of your hair." He broke into a smile. Thanks. Seriously. Thank you. Yeah, no worries. Even though I'd apologized and even though David seemed to be okay, something had exchanged between us that made sitting quietly in the same room uncomfortable. My phone vibrated. I had a text message from Jack: What are you up to today? I looked up at David. "What time is Ben coming over?" "Well, um, he said he'd help cook. So, if you'll tell me when's good for you, then..." "Anytime is fine," I said. "Yeah? Well, maybe I'll tell him five-thirty? I nodded. "Cool." Free at 5, maybe a little bit before. Come over? Sure.

Boom, Jack said when I walked in. He was lying in the atrociously messy living room on his back, in yet another plaid flannel shirt and arching his neck at the television screen while he played Halo with the dark-haired bartender from the week before. Yo, Xander, this is Arrington. Youre calling me Arrington? What? I like that name, he said. "Hadley, Xander. Xander, Hadley. You met at the bar, but you were drunk." "I remember," I said. Xander glanced up from the violent game for a split second. Hey. Good to see you again." "You, too." Shes the Editor-in-Chief. Xander jerked his head up and paused the game. Hey, what the fuck are you doing? Jack asked Xander, jerking his controller around. "You can't pause." Xander looked at me and grinned. Youre the Editor-in-Chief? Thats what I just said, Jack said. Why did you pause the game, you asshole? You didnt say it was a girl. Fuck you, Jack said. Unpause. Xander laughed and nodded at me. He kept

looking. It all makes sense now. Shut the fuck up, and finish the game, Jack insisted. What makes sense? I asked. Make yourself a drink and join us, Jack said. "Kitchen's that way," Jack nodded at it with his chin. I walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. With the exception of a carton of orange juice, all they had was alcohol and energy drinks. Xander's voice carried into the kitchen and I cocked my head to hear. It would have been a lot easier to get all of that Justin Shelter stuff off the internet if you had just explained you were trying to impress a hot girl I bit my lip. I shouldn't like that. It was derogatory and objectifying and it insulted my intellect and my position at the paper. It was an outrage. But I liked it. I'd never been the hot girl. I wasn't the hot girl. I grabbed a bottle of vodka and fished around in their dishwasher for a clean glass. Fuck off, Jack replied. Im not trying to impress her. Well, if youre not trying to impress her, maybe I will, Xander said. The tile floor in the kitchen was sticky. I'd like to see that, Jack replied.

"Yeah, I bet you would." "No, really," Jack said. "Knock yourself out. Tell me how it goes." Xander's voice dropped. I couldn't make anything out after that. I poured a splash of vodka over ice, and filled the glass with orange juice. I walked back into the living room and sat down next to where Jack was lying on the floor. I leaned against the couch and held out my hand for a controller. You play Halo? I nodded gamely. I had no idea how to play Halo. Xander chuckled. Well, everything really makes sense now, he repeated. "Hot girl plays Halo." He nodded. "Whole thing makes sense." Xander, would you stop talking?" Jack asked. Know what youre doing next year? Xander asked, ignoring him. Um, not exactly. No," I said. "I have an interview with USA Today on Thursday." I shrugged. "Washington bureau." Awesome, Xander said. "So, policy journalism?" "Yeah." "Is that the dream job?" I shrugged. "It's a good job, but no. Not exactly. I

want to do combat journalism, I think." You do? Jack asked. He tore his eyes from the screen and gave me a quick searching glance. Yep," I said. I rubbed my chin. "Anyways, I doubt that'll happen before I've been out of school for a while. They want people with experience." Xander watched Jack closely. Neither of them said anything. "Anyways, yeah. Newspapers," I said to fill the silence. "Combat journalism?" Jack repeated. "Um, yeah. Eventually. But that's not what the interview is for," I said. "Well, that's good." "Why is that good?" I asked. I don't think it's worth dying for bad news. I shook my head. "I think it's important. Maybe even worth dying for. If journalists hadnt gone over to Vietnam, a lot more people would've died there. You need war correspondents to enforce accountability." Well, if thats he started, his voice almost harsh. He let out a long breath and didnt finish the thought. Yeah, I guess thats important, he said tonelessly. He shrugged. What are you doing next year? I asked Jack. "Im going to try to find a way not to work, Jack said. Which Im actually pretty good at, so I dont foresee

any problems. Nice. "Good plan, Xander said sarcastically. I think its a great plan, Jack said simply. "They always tell you to do what you love. And I love not working." Eventually, you are going to have to do something with your life, Xander said. Jack shrugged. "We'll see." You have to do something," Xander repeated. Dont argue with me about the meaning of life, my friend. You may be a genius engineer, but I took Intro to Philosophy and got a B+, Jack said. And I dont see the point in getting a job. Xander threw his head back, like hed had this same conversation with Jack a dozen times. Enough. I have things to do, he scooped his backpack from the floor and nodded at me. Nice to meet you, again, Hadley. You, too, I said to Xander. I watched him go. We both heard the door close behind him and then we were on our own. It was strangely electrifying to be alone in a room with him. I could hear the fullness of the rooms silence: the way the floorboards creaked when Jack moved, the way my sleeves rustled when I brushed a stray piece of hair behind my ear. Jack finally sat up and looked at me. Sup?

Sup yourself? He smiled and reached for my drink. He took a sip. Who has a screwdriver for dinner? You didnt have any other mixers, I said. "Yes, we do." "Well, they all have names like Heart Attack in a Can and Lethal Dose of Caffeine." He cocked his head and took another sip. You want to eat? "That's like rule number one." "Ah, you're never available for dinner," he said. "What about snacks?" I threw him a look and he laughed. Lets go upstairs. I barely even know you," Jack said in mock horror. "That's why I'm not taking snacks from you." I raised an eyebrow and he laughed. I finished the rest of the drink in a long gulp. He pulled me to my feet by the wrist and nodded at the kitchen. So, hows the newspaper? he asked, refilling my drink and making it twice as strong. There's talk of a Valentine's Day issue," I said. "You look horrified," he said. He added a few ice cubes to my glass and took a second one out of the dishwasher for himself. "I don't know how well you'd do in combat if Valentine's Day makes you nauseous."

I raised my eyebrows. "I just don't see the point." Its this holiday where couples give each other candy and presents and flowers and go to dinner, he said. The colors are pink and red, also white. Its named after a guy who married a bunch of people or something. I think he was a Saint. Saint Valentine. He nodded, lifting his glass and tipping it towards me, like a half-toast. He took a sip and swallowed. "Yep. Also its a movie with Ashton Kutcher. Probably not your kind of thing. I'm embarrassed how much I know about this, actually." "I know about the massacre." "What massacre?" "There was a massacre in Chicago in 1929." I said. "Some gangster thing." "Really?" I nodded. I sipped my orange juice. "Al Capone versus Bugsy Malone. Five members of the North Side gang shot and killed." He chuckled. "Well, that's fantastic. Thank you for that. I'm talking about Ashton Kutcher and you're talking about Al Capone." No problem, I said. He grinned and kissed me. And then he nipped at my neck, sharply. Did you just bite me? I dont know, maybe. I was trying to kiss you and it got a little weird. Im starving, but you dont have time

to have dinner with me. He said all of this without batting an eyelash. I laughed all the way up to his room. Youre disturbingly organized, I said. He shrugged. I just like to know where things are. So do I but this He smirked at me. Well, if youre that disturbed by it, wartime reporting is really going to knock your socks off. No, this is unnatural. He chuckled. Okay. And warfares super-organic or something? Or something, I said. I took a long sip of my orange juice and vodka. He took it from my hands and took a sip himself. "I need that." He shook his head. "No, you don't." "I do. I decided to sleep with you and it's been years. Actual years." He didn't laugh, which I was expecting. He took another sip. "I don't want you to be drunk." He set my half-full glass down on the desk next to his. I walked toward him. He sat at the edge of the bed watching me warily, his rich brown eyes glimmering. He reached for my wrists and pulled me to him and kissed me hard.

He fell back and took me with him. I closed my eyes as he rolled over me, and dug his fingertips firmly into my hips. Why are you wearing so many clothes? he whispered, undoing the button on my jeans. I could taste the vodka and orange juice on his mouth. He smelled like fresh air and marijuana, and he had the softest, most talented lips in the world. He pulled the shirt over my head in one firm tug that made my hair static. I shivered. He sat back on his heels and looked at me. What? He smiled. Take off your bra. I did. I shivered in the cool air in his room and he didnt move. I wanted him to do something, but he just stared at me. For a brief moment, I worried that something was wrong. Youre beautiful, he said throatily. Shut up, I whispered. No, really. You are. He smiled and he leaned forward and he kissed me. I pulled his shirt over his head and ran my hands over his wide shoulders. He stroked my ribs slowly and smoothly. His hands felt warm and cold at once. I shivered, my skin prickling wherever he touched me. He slipped off my jeans, tugging at them easily until they came off. He smiled at me. I kissed him and he thumbed my breast.

I want to fuck you, he whispered. The way he said it sounded dirty and sweet at the same time. He kissed me hard, but his hands were gentle as they pressed down on my ribs. His callused fingers slid up and down my spine lightly and I shivered and arched my back. I wanted him to fuck me, too. He reached for my waist and pulled me closer. I felt the warmth of his body. His boxers rustled slightly as I pressed against him, tangling my fingers in his soft hair, which was just long enough for me to run my fingers through. He sat against the headboard, holding me against him, grinding his hips slightly against mine and I felt a spasm of desire shooting through me, down my legs to the tips of my toes. I bit his lip softly. Christ, he murmured. He lifted me up, and pushed me back slightly, so that I was lying on my back beneath him, with my head near the foot of his bed and my legs still clasped around his waist. Jesus, Hadley, he said fiercely. He slid on top of me, holding most of his weight on his legs and forearms. He kissed me until I was breathless and aching. I nodded. I didnt know what he was saying Jesus to, but I was there too. Out of breath and wild with the sensation of being so close to him. He hooked his fingers into my black underwear

and I let out a soft sound. I flushed when he slid them down to my knees. Jesus, I want to fuck you, he said. Yeah, I said. You should do that. Yeah? he asked. Yes. My throat tensed. My body froze with anticipation and anxiety. It had been a while. I sat up and ran a hand through my hair. I was nervous. But, God, I wanted to have sex with him. He grabbed my chin and kissed me. You sure? Yes, Im sure. He laughed and with his lips still resting against mine, I could feel the vibrations of his laughter. Then, relax. Itll be fun. Ill go slow, he said, meeting my eyes and seeing more hesitation than I was going to admit to. He pressed me back to the bed. He kissed my mouth and my neck, and he moved down my body, dropping kisses on my breasts and my stomach, on the sharp edge of my hipbone. When he reached the soft skin of my inner thigh, I grabbed a handful of his hair. He chuckled low and easy and I closed my eyes and felt a jolt as he slipped two fingers in between my legs. Relax, he said again, moving back up my body to kiss my neck. I curled my toes so hard they cracked and his low laugh moved through his body. You okay? he asked, only half-joking.

Im he curled his fingers and I swore. He had hit something that went through my body like a shudder, only the shudder that ran up my spine and down my toes was warm and white and somehow soft. Whatever word I was trying to say came out much closer to a moan. He smiled. Youre a bastard, I murmured, touching his face. Im going to love watching you lose control, he teased. He slipped his fingers out of me in one smooth motion and reached for a condom. This is good? Youre sure? he asked. How many times are you going to make me say yes? He grinned and nipped at my neck. Until youre screaming it, sweetheart. Well see about that. He cocked his head, slipped on the condom, and kissed me again. He moved over me and ran one hand up my leg. He hesitated when I closed my eyes. Hey, look at me, he said. I opened my eyes. Youre awfully bossy. Im awfully bossy? he said. He raised an eyebrow. Yes. You seem to be enjoying it. Well, like I said, I really dont know what Im

doing, I smiled, and took a breath, and he leaned down and kissed me. This time, I kept my eyes open. I watched the quiet intent in his eyes, as he moved carefully and surely into me. I took a sharp breath, briefly startled by the sensation. I tensed reflexively. Fuck, I muttered. Relax. Just breathe deeply a few times, okay? If you want me to stop, Ill stop. I dont want you to stop. It took a second for the pain to dissipate and then he moved in me, tentatively at first, just a slight rock backwards. I closed my eyes and gripped his shoulders. Christ, youre tight, he whispered shakily. I tightened my legs around him. I could tell he was being gentle, responding to my hesitance. I could tell he was holding back. But even though I knew that, I felt only him and I felt on the absolute edge of control. I was barely hanging onto my own reactions. I could only register his presence above me and the sea of pleasure as he moved in me. I acknowledged briefly that my mind had gone absolutely blank, like the single thing that existed in the world in that moment was Jack Diamonds body above me, the soft bed beneath me, his tongue gentle on my lips, his eyelashes fluttering against mind, the warm wave of a building orgasm.

Through the perfect haze, a single coherent thought registered: he was right about Luke doing it wrong. I dug my teeth into his shoulder to keep from crying out and Jack had taken over, smiling seriously, holding my hip, and controlling every movement so nothing hurt. Jesus, Hadley, he whispered roughly when he finally came. Jesus Christ. I felt like my spine had melted into a puddle. I might have said something to that effect because he laughed. I closed my eyes, breathing hard, thinking of the other things I wanted to say like oh my god. I decided not to say them. But oh my god. He pulled out gently, got rid of the condom and came back to bed. He pulled my boneless body back towards him. That was good, I managed to say as he wrapped an arm securely around my waist, and I turned against him, so my head was buried underneath his chin. Youre good at that. He pressed a hard, lasting kiss to my shoulder. I got nothing on you, girl. I dropped my head against his shoulder knowing that I would remember this better than my first timethe dark, lazy Saturday evening when Jack Diamond made me feel like nobody had ever made me feel before.

I somehow fell asleep. When I woke up, he was sitting at his desk, half-dressed, with his feet kicked up on the desktop, reading Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner in the low light. He looked at me. I swear I didnt drug you. You just passed out. I got up and ran a hand through my hair. What time is it? Almost midnight, he said. He nodded out the window. Its snowing again. You should stay. No, I should really get home, I said. He glanced at the window dubiously. I could see the thick flakes dropping from the sky and covering the world again. All winter it would be like this, days and days of snow. He got to his feet, holding the worn paperback in one hand. He walked to me and straddled me over the covers, letting the book fall from his hand. Its blizzarding. I live two minutes away, I countered. You were drinking, he said, trying to press me back to the bed. Hours ago, I said. I pushed him back. Its cold. And Im warm. I wake up early and I kick." "I don't care." I smiled, pushed him aside, and got out of bed, trying to pretend he wasnt watching me while I got

dressed. Sorry about the whole nap thing Nah, its cool, he said. You work so hard, you probably fall asleep whenever you lie down. Pretty much, I said. He nodded. He smiled softly. See ya around, Hads. See you around. I laughed softly on the stair landing. This was exactly what I needed. Something fun. Something without any expectations. Something with someone as cute as Jack could be.

Chapter Seventeen
I whirled through the next two weeks, eating on the run, and sneaking into the frat house after midnight to see Jack whenever I could, which wasn't enough. I flew to D.C. for the interview with USA Today , and was dumb enough to not check the shuttle bus schedule when I landed back in Chicago late the same night, wornout and in the world's least comfortable shoes. It was amazing anyone ever got anything done in heels. I called David from the terminal. And sent him half a dozen texts. But he didnt respond. And I knew that meant he wasnt near his phone. David never ignored me. I sat down in the plastic chairs near baggage claim. I had two people to choose from: Andrew and Jack. I chose Jack. "I'm stranded," I admitted. "At the airport." "Are you asking me for a favor?" "Completely," I said. "I'm going to break the land speed record on my way there just so I can gloat," he said. He hadn't been lying. I'd only been waiting fifteen minutes when he parked his Jeep out front. "Where to, my lady?" he asked. "The newspaper office, if you don't mind." "I do, kind of. I was hoping to take you with me," he said.

I smiled and rubbed my chin. "Yeah. I've got to go though." "You can't ever take a night off?" "I can. Just not tonight." When we reached the newspaper office, he gave me a rueful look. "You want company?" I smiled. "Yes, but I won't get anything done." "Alright," he said. "Thank you. So much," I said. "My pleasure. That's what friends are for." I might have to stop sleeping with you so we can stay friends, I confessed. Actually, I'm a really shitty friend, he replied. So, maybe you should just keep sleeping with me. I'm going to send you a bill for the car ride." Andrew was throwing a baseball against the wall in my office, talking through the opinion pages with a few of our columnists. "Hads, we've been lost without you," he said, catching the ball. "How was your flight?" "Fine." "No delays?" he asked. "There's a nor'easter over Ohio." I raised my eyebrows. Ah, no. No delays. "Amazing. Hey, so, did you think about the Valentine's Day issue?" he asked. "Everyone likes the idea. Right?" The columnists all nodded.

"Ah, I haven't really thought about it. A special edition?" I asked. I sat down on the edge of my desk and tried to give it some serious thought. "You don't think this wouldn't be better for the magazine?" "Did you read my email?" he asked. "We did a whole section-by-section breakdown." "No, I have to look at that," I said, rubbing the back of my neck. "Well, let's just talk about it," he said. "It's a good concept. It's packaging for an article on sex and romance, which are more than just buzzwords. The holiday provides relevancy to tackle bigger issues, like access to birth control, rates of sexual assault, all the stuff nobody talks about because it's never newsworthy." "I hear you," I said. "Well, I don't think you can just say no." "I'm not saying no. I'm just not deciding now. Okay?" "Well, when?" Andrew asked. "Come on. It's a good idea. Juliet wants to give editing a try." "I don't know. How about "Tuesday," Andrew said. "How about dinner Tuesday?" "I'm on the schedule to copyedit Tuesday." "I can take your shift," Shuchi, one of our cheery sophomore columnists, offered with a smile. I exhaled. "Oh. Well, okay then." I tried to smile

gamely at Andrew. Thanks, Shuchi. "Perfect," Andrew said. "Thanks, guys. Great meeting." He clapped his hands. They gather their notebooks and left. "So, how was D.C.?" "Fine," I said. "I was there for like five minutes." Andrew nodded slowly. "Well, I'll let you do your work." I nodded. "Thanks. Sorry to be so short. Im just a little overwhelmed." "All good," Andrew said. "We'll talk Tuesday." "Yeah. Yeah." "I'll make a reservation somewhere." "Yeah, anywhere is fine," I said. "We can go to Chipotle or something. Thanks." "Alright," he smiled. "It'll be good. Valentine's Day." I smiled. "You're killing me." He laughed and whistled his way out of the office. I stayed there until midnight and then went to the library to finish up an Arabic essay. I fell asleep curled up in a library chair and only made it home as the sun began to rise. I had one of those days where time moves fast and slow at the same timewhere you're so tired nothing really makes that much sense.

I was glad when it was over. I texted David to see if he'd be coming back for dinner. He hadn't cooked on Fridays in a few weeks. He used to respond to my texts instantaneously, but he'd only gotten back to me about needing a ride from the airport the day after. With apologies and emojis and something about being busy with Ben. But he didnt write back to my text about dinner. So, I went into my room to write a thank you note to my interviewer, Cheryl. I was worried about David. Or maybe I just felt a little neglected. I chewed my lip. Maybe I was being selfish. He was head-over-heels in love with Ben. Ben who had to keep his sexual orientation hidden. Ben who couldnt afford to have anyone know. Ben who still hooked up with girls to keep up appearances. And David believed it was all necessary. I knew I shouldn't judge, but I found it hard not to. Ben could give just a little. He could stop with the girls, at least. If he was making David tone down his whole personality in public, then Ben could stop sleeping with girls. After Id written my thank you not, David finally got back to me. Sorry, have plans with Ben. Jack was busy, too, at a rush event for his fraternity. I ordered Chinese takeout, turned on reality TV ,

and felt sorry for myself. I put a stamp on my thank you note, and sighed. The interview had gone well. They wanted a recent graduate with editorial experience. But, I couldn't get excited about it like I had about the Times job. I reached for my laptop and impulsively fired off an email to Suzanne at the Times. Dear Suzanne, I just wanted to touch base with you and see if there were any other positions at the Times that might be opening up in the near future. I hope to hear from you soon. My best, Hadley I sent it before I could talk myself out of it. Yes, it was desperate. But I was desperate, too. I knew what I wanted to do. I had spent almost every Friday night in college like thisalone and exhaustedI shouldn't give up just because I'd heard someone had said no once. I fell asleep on the couch, in the way you fall asleep when you're exhausted, thickly, like dropping heavily into a dreamless cocoon of darkness.

Chapter Eighteen
Cheryl offered me the job while I walked back to the apartment on Saturday night. It was eight o'clock and I was sure the unknown number belonged to a telemarketer. But, it was her, working on a Saturday. It made me think I really had no idea what I was getting into. "Can I have a few weeks to think about?" I asked, fumbling with the keys. I was relieved. It was an option and a good one, but I was still holding out hope that I might get a job that I really wanted. "Sure, take your time," Cheryl said. "We look forward to hearing from you." I had not heard back from Suzanne. I suppose that was to be expected. I unlocked the door, finally, and pushed into our apartment. The light to David's room was on, for the first time in days. Most of the time, when I came home, he'd gone to sleep or he'd gone to Ben's. "David!" I shouted. When he didn't call back, I walked into his room frowning. He must have left the lights on before he went out. I sighed, disappointed, and flicked them off. And then I heard a sound, like whimpering. I turned the lights back on and crossed to his bathroom door. I hesitated. I didnt want to barge into anything in

the shower, but it sounded like someone in pain. "Hey, David?" I called softly. I knocked. David? Hadley? he called back shakily. You okay? I asked. Yeah, f-fine, he said. You want me to come in?" He didnt say anything so I pushed open the door. He was hunched over the sink, pressing a blood-strained cloth to his mouth. I darted across the bathroom. I put my hands on his back. David, I gasped. One of his eyes was brimming with tears. The other was badly hurt, already swollen shut, concealing the robins egg blue of his iris that had startled me the first time I met him. David, I repeated. What happened? Nothing, he muttered. Honey Ben and I got into a fight. He hit you? We got into a fight, David repeated, like this was different. His lip was split and he was bleeding from the gums. David, I said. You need to call the police. Im fine, he said. Stay there. Here. Sit down," I said, kicking down the toilet seat and pushing him by the shoulders so he was

sitting. "I'm going to call the cops. I'll be right back." "Don't! Hadley, Im serious. Stop. Please dont, Hadley. We got into a fight. It was mutual. Im not a girl. I never said you were. Well, its different. No, its not different. Its completely different. Nobodys boyfriend should hit them, I yelled at him, furious at the implication. David! He beat the crap out of you. He swallowed thickly. I said I was fine. His voice broke as he said it and I instantly regretted raising my voice. Can you please just help me? I sighed. Just give me a second." "Don't call the police, Hadley. I'm begging you." "Okay. I wont. Im getting you ice. I tried to collect my thoughts as I walked to the freezer. Dont get emotional. Hes been attacked by someone that hes in love with. Be logical and be firm and you can talk about it in the morning. It all sounded fine in my head, but as I reached for a cloth to wrap the plastic bag of ice in, I wanted to stomp Ben bloody. Motherfucker, I muttered to the refrigerator. Stupid fucking asshole. I walked back to Davids room. Hed pulled off his blood-spattered shirt and sat on the toilet, shivering. I

handed him the ice and went back into his room. I took his fleece to him, and helped him ease his aching shoulders into the sleeves. Thanks, he whispered brokenly. I clucked. I couldnt help myself. Come into the living room, I said, pulling him up. Ill make you tea. I helped him onto the couch and flipped through the channels, looking for something that might make him smile. That would be hard. But I found a rerun of Make it Or Break It, a cheesy ABC Family show wed been obsessed with our freshman year, when we were both clueless eighteen-year olds. Love this show, he said softly. I put on the kettle, drumming my fingers against the countertop. The silence was fraught with his fear and adrenaline. I wanted to take it away for him. I made a cup of Chamomile with honey and brought it to him. I sat down cross-legged next to him on our couch and he leaned against me, cradling the cup in his hands. Thanks, Hadley. Yeah, of course, I said softly. I ran my fingers through his short hair. Hed cut it for Ben. I feel like an idiot, he murmured. Youre not an idiot. We just got into an argument, he said softly. I know what it looks like. But, it was just an argument. I swallowed. What happened? I asked as

neutrally as I could. He hooked up with this girl, he said. I asked himI asked him if he could stop doing that. He got upset. And he hit you? He shrugged. No. I tried to leave, and he wouldnt let me. But I tried, physically, to go and he got pissed off and He swallowed and closed his eyes before he continued. He tried to apologize. I wouldnt let him. He bit his lip. But, it was, you know, we were both winding each other up. I just didnt know hed snap like that. Your boyfriend isnt allowed to hit you, I said as firmly as I could. I thought he should know that already. I thought everyone knew that intrinsically. But he was insisting theyd had a fight, which was a totally different situation. Even though I didnt see it that way. And I could already feel him tuning me out. David? Yeah, yeah, I know. Ill talk to him, David said. He shifted. Did you hit him back? I asked. No, no, he shook his head. He laughed softly and sadly. You know me. Im only verbally confrontational. I swallowed and nodded. Dave, I know this seems like a fight to you. But you shouldnt stay with someone who hits you. No matter how crazy about them

you are. He didnt say anything. He reached for his tea and took a sip. It wasnt like that, Hadley. You keep saying that, but he hit you. I know, but it was different. I let out a frustrated sigh. Let me see your eye. He dropped the ice from his eye and winced at me. How bad is it? he asked in a small voice. Itll be fine. Keep the ice on it. Hes under a lot of pressure, he continued. And hes afraid about the whole thing and I just picked something that bugged him to begin with. And, I dont know. I couldnt let it go. You really don't need to make excuses for him," I said. No, Im not saying he should have hit me. But we just got into a fight. Its like fighting my brother, you know? he said, like Id understand. I refused to accept that. But it wasnt the time for an argument. I bit my lip and we were quiet until the credits rolled. David sat there quietly, as another commercial played. I really like him, he said after a moment. I know you think Im being insane, but I really, really like him. I need you to trust me on this. It was just a fight. Hes not, you know, abusive. I inhaled sharply. David, I cant tell you that its

okay that he did that. Fine. But please dont try to talk me into breaking up with him. Because Im telling you right now that its not going to happen. Im not going to give up on it yet. Making you hide who you are? Isolating you from your friends? Hitting you? These are not the actions of someone who loves you, I said hoarsely. I am not going to sit around and tell you to put up with it. Im not an idiot, Hads, he said, with a touch of his former flair in his voice. I wouldnt stay with someone who was dangerous. It looks bad, but its not what you think. I need you to trust me. Okay?" I met his eyes and I didnt know what else to say. I wanted to scream at myself as much as I wanted to scream at him. It was definitely not okay for anyone to hit my best friend. And it was especially not okay for his so-called boyfriend to do it. And the least okay part about it was that David was going to accept it. "Okay," I said. I swallowed and he nodded gratefully. I was old enough to know that very few things in life were as black and white as they seemed when you were a kid. But this was one of them. This didnt happen. It shouldnt. It was wrong. But, I said okay when I knew I shouldn't have.

Chapter Nineteen
Somewhere, somehow, I lost my backbone, I told Jack, lying on his bed, in his boxers and one of his flannel shirts. I was totally starting to understand how someone could wear them everyday. Jack was quiet. What happened? I dont know. I was on my back looking up at the cracked ceiling with my head in Jacks lap, and I wanted to stay here forever, which was probably against one of our rules. Davids boyfriend beat him up." Jack was quiet for a brief second. Well, who the fuck is his boyfriend? I cant tell you. Well, I cant kill him if you dont tell me who he is. I grinned briefly. I told David I wouldnt. Hes in the closet and I guess hes terrified of anyone finding out, I said. But he, I mean, his eye is swollen shut. David said it was a fight. And he did this whole long thing where he was like I just need you to trust me on this. And I said okay, of all the unbelievably stupid things to say, I was just like, okay, David, thats fine with me that your douche bag boyfriend beat you up, and that you cant see out of one eye, and that youre an emotional wreck. No worries. Love is love. I sighed. Im a fucking idiot. Jack made a noise in the back of his throat. Well, what else could you do?

I dont know. Get him to understand thats its not okay. Well, I still think you have a backbone, Jack said softly. And I can beat the shit out of his boyfriend. I gave him a look. Dont look at me like that. I could get violent for you. For David, I corrected. I could get violent for David, too. I have a car. I laughed. What are you going to do with a car? Run him over. Go bury him. Drop him in the lake. I can do it, baby, Jack whispered, pressing his lips to my forehead. Just tell me, baby. Do not Im allowed to call you baby when Im pretending to be a criminal. Thats how criminals talk, Jack said. He smiled, but only briefly. He looked at me, like he was thinking: You want to report it? he asked after a moment. To who? I dont know. The police? Campus Health? CAPS? CAPS was the mental health crisis center on campus. I hadnt even thought about that. Im sure they have some kind of process you can use. David would kill me if I got this guy in trouble. Jack shrugged. Yeah, maybe at first. I sighed. I dont know. Hes my best friend. I do

trust him. Are you worried about Davids safety? No. Well, maybe. I dont know. Psychologically, a little bit. I mean, David washe was different before he started seeing him. He was happy to be gay. Now, he feels like he has to hide it. But he said they got into a fight? Yeah. Maybe it was just a fight. David didnt hit him back. Jack frowned. Maybe David needs to take some boxing lessons. Not a bad idea, I said, frowning. "I'll run it by him." Jack rubbed his chin. "Have you talked to him about it?" "Not since Thursday." "Well, talk to him. I mean the best thing would be David deciding this guy was a problem." "Yeah," I agreed. I shook my head. "I don't know. Sorry to burden you. It's just disturbing. Aside from newspaper people, David's my only friend. And I feel like, I don't know, I should be doing a better job." Hads, you know youre doing your best. I dont know. He ran his hand through my hair and leaned down to kiss me. It was an affectionate kiss more than anything

else and I smiled up at him for a long minute. So, you still like Rileys class? Jack asked, breaking the silence. Yeah, I said. What does he have you report on? Jack asked. Since youre obviously not at war with anyone. He tries to get us to write about things that are chaotic, I said. Like, write an accurate account of a time when you were totally wasted. Jack laughed. How do you even remember enough to do that? Exactly. And how do you not make yourself sound like a total asshole? Jack smiled. I think I like you when youre drunk. I dont think youve ever seen me really drunk. The night we first hooked up? He grinned. Oh, no. Youve definitely never seen me really drunk, I said. Im not nice. He chuckled and shifted my head out of his lap. I sat up as he got to his feet. Id like to see that, actually. It could be fun. I watched him go to his desk and pull down a book. His booksand he had over a hundredwere neatly organized above his desk. And the ones that didnt fit there lined a bookcase by his bed. I hadnt encountered anyone with as many books as Jack. Most students only

bought books required for their classes. But Jack had more books than any professor could assign, and all of them looked like they had been read. I got something for you, he muttered over his shoulder, half-bashful. I mean, I didnt get it for you. Ive had it. But, I think youd like it. He moved a few books around and found the one he was looking for. Here, he said, handing me a worn out copy of The Bombs over Bosnia, a collection of Robert Rileys articles on Bosnia. I took it, surprised and grateful. Wow. How did you get I cut myself off. Godfather, right? Yup. I have a couple copies. That's a first edition," he said. He rubbed his chin and shrugged. "Thought you might like it." I had a copy of the paperback at home. I could've said I already had it, but it wouldn't be true at all. This copy was worn and read and possibly even loved, like the best books should be. And it was Jacks. I thumbed through the pages. Someone had crinkled them while they were reading. Maybe over and over again. I saw Jacks familiar handwriting in the margins and ran my fingers across the words. When I looked up, he was watching me. Thank you, Jack. I dont know if thats against the rules or not, he said sheepishly. Books are cool, I replied.

Okay, he grinned. Good. Thank you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I meanI already had it. Its not like he lifted his shoulders and sat down at his desk. I laughed. Alright. I set it gently down next to my bag and clothes and got out of bed. What are you doing tomorrow? he asked. Newsp You know, I am really getting sick of that word. Tell me about it, I replied. He smiled as I traded his clothes for my less comfortable ones. You know, you could sleep over. Rules. How is it that sleeping in the same bed means more to you than sex? It doesnt mean more to me, I told him, buttoning my jeans and slipping my feet into my Converse sneakers. I mean, even you must have the time to sleep. I rolled my eyes. Yes. In my own bed. I kissed him briefly and he reached for my wrist. I held the book hed given me in one hand and looked into his brown eyes. And I leaned in for another kiss. I loved the way he kissed me. But this felt more serious, deeper and longer, and we held each others eyes for a long moment before I cleared my throat and felt a flush rushing to my face. I turned my head.

See you around, Hads. "See you around, Jack." He smiled. "If you need anything, you know, just pick up the phone." I nodded and smiled back. I will.

Chapter Twenty
It would be my last winter of walking across the long, cold campus from the parking lot to the newspaper office. While there were things I would miss about Northwestern, the weather wasnt one of them. My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I reached down, hoping to see Jacks name lighting up the screen. But it was just Andrew. Does 8 still work for dinner tonight? I made a frustrated noise in the back of my throat. I'd forgotten. I typed out a response with my frozen fingers: Maybe 8:15? Meet you at the newspaper in 5. Hey, I said breathlessly when I reached my office. Andrew was waiting patiently, thumbing through the draft of tomorrows issue. "I just have to talk to Justin for two seconds and then we can go." Sure, no worries." He was in khakis and a button down. I was actually wearing sweatpants. You had somewhere nicer in mind? He looked at my outfit hesitantly. Yeah. I made reservations at Mill House. Is that okay?" One of the most elegant and expensive restaurants in Evanston. I nodded once. Sure. Um. Great. Ill just Mill House was the sort of place you went with your parents. If your parents were super uptight. As if to make a point, my phone vibrated and I glanced at the screen.

Jack. Is skydiving against the rules? I raised my eyebrows and began to type back. Change? Andrew finished my sentence. I looked up. "Right. Sorry. I'll change. I just, five words with Justin, okay?" "Yeah, sure. Take your time." I crossed the office to Justin's computer. Whats up? I asked. Attribution issues? "Yeah, sorry," he said. "So, I have this on-therecord quote from an athletic coach who said I couldn't identify him by name or by what sport he coached. He said I could say he was a head coach of a varsity team, but no other identifiers. "This is on the budget for 2014?" I asked. They'd recently diverted several million dollars earmarked for the football team to programs that would impact the student body. "Yeah," he said. "I think it's critical enough that anonymity is okay here." I read it over quickly: "The administration is trying to send a message. I'm not going to name names, but there've been repeated attacks on our program from administrators across the boardeveryone from admissions officers to academic deans. The university refuses to acknowledge how important we are to alums. This happened before, in 2007,

and it damaged the football program and that, in turn, damaged the endowment because alumni giving went down in 2008. It's not good policy to use the athletic budget for unfunded programs in the college." I shook my head. "You can use everything but the first two sentences. Hes telling us the administration is trying to send a message, but if he wont back it up with anything specific and he wont put his name behind it, we cant run it. He cant just editorialize on the situation anonymously. "Yeah. Okay," Justin said. "And point out the fact that there was a financial crisis in 2008," I added. "And that giving to universities across the country went down." "Yeah," Justin nodded. "Good point." He cut part of the quote and we both scanned the article again to see if it still made sense. I think that looks good, I said. Ive got to run. Text me if anything else comes up. I will. Thanks, Hadley. Have fun. Thanks! I hustled back to Andrew. "Sorry, ready?" He nodded. Lets go. I followed him down the stairs and pulled out my phone to text Jack: Skydiving is totally legal. Excellent. You in? Saturday? I bit my lip. Sure.

I slipped my phone into my pocket and walked out into the bitter chill to Andrews car. He drove a fancy, new Range Rover. His dad was some kind of oil magnate something Andrew would never tell you, but Google quickly would. He turned on the heat and I shivered. "I feel like I haven't seen as much of you lately," Andrew said, driving towards my apartment. "Really?" I asked. Im at the newspaper office like every day. "I know, but you used to come to the bar nights. I don't think you've been to one all year." I smiled. "I'll come to the next one." He parked next to the apartment building. "You should. They're fun." "I'll come," I promised. I glanced at the time. "I'll be quick. Promise." Andrew nodded. "No rush." I jogged upstairs quickly, trying to think of something to wear to Mill House. The lights were on in our apartment and I heard the TV blaring as I kicked off my sneakers and walked in. David, I shouted. I need help. There was a loud crash as I tossed my keys on the table and I shrieked in surprise. David was shirtless and he looked petrified and I could see Ben Mitchell hiding behind the couch. A movie was playing.

I hope he hurt himself, I thought uncharitably. I caught my breath. Jesus, David, you scared me. What should I wear to Mill House? Hadley, he said in a small voice. Um, I thought you were at the paper?" I glanced at Ben. Theres a person on the floor. Ben got to his feet. He glared at David. "You said we'd be alone." She knows," David said, sounding tired. She knows? Ben said explosively. I dont care, Im not going to say anything, and Ill sign a non-disclosure agreement if youre going to get that worked up about it, I informed Ben icily. I turned my attention to David who still looked completely startled. Mill House, David. Focus. Black dress, leggings, boots. That knit dress. With the bow. Long-sleeved. Are your parents in town? No," I said. When did she find out? Ben asked David. I didnt like his tone of voice. It was astoundingly accusatory. I really should have given Jack Bens name when he offered to run him over. "She won't say anything, David said softly. Shed better not, he muttered. Was that a threat? Trust me, I have better things to do than talk about your sexuality, Ben, I said.

Hadley! David exclaimed. I walked to my room. I put on the exact outfit David had suggested: a long-sleeved knit dress, soft black leggings and black boots. I looked in the mirror, put my hair down, grimaced, and put my hair back up. There wasnt much I could do about my hair. It liked to lie limp, and I didnt have the patience to encourage it to behave in any other way. Ben and David were talking in low voices when I emerged, twisting my hair into a low bun. Im really sorry, David was saying. I swear. Shes the only person who knows. Okay? I was really starting to despise this kid. Id hated him ever since he hit David, but now he was moving into full-blown enemy combatant territory. Who is taking you to Mill House? David asked cheerily. Andrew. He smiled. Aw, thats awesome, Hadley. I looked at him curiously. Yeah, itll be nice to get out of the office for a while. "So, you're not seeing Jack anymore?" "What?" I asked. David raised his eyebrows. "You're going on a date with Andrew Brenner, right?" "It's not a date. We're talking about some special issue in February." I exhaled. "For Valentine's Day."

"Riight," David said. "At Mill House." I looked at him. "No, no, no. You're...you're confused. It's Andrew. It's for the newspaper. David chuckled. You cant be serious, Hadley. Hes taking you to Mill House. That is a date. It is not a date. "I bet you twenty dollars he tries to kiss you." "Im going. Its not a date, I said, opening the door. Goodbye. I took a deep breath in the hallway. I was going to dinner with Andrew. A meal. Nothing more. Nothing less. We would talk about the newspaper. That was it. Definitely not a date. The night winds off the lake blew ferociously as I walked to the car. The hair I had pushed behind my ears flew wildly. I felt Andrew watching me as I opened the door and pulled it shut. Sorry, I said. No worries. You were fast. He smiled. "You look really pretty." Shit. We were the youngest people at Mill House. By a decade. At least. A chic, dark-haired waitress scrutinized our drivers licenses when Andrew asked for the wine list. Andrew ordered a bottle of wine expensive enough to

impress her. Or maybe it was to impress me. I couldnt think of one good reason why he should do either. Hed seen me behave badly all year. Hed seen me yell at copyeditors and nearly burst into tears when I hadnt slept enough. I didnt need a $200 bottle of wine to like Andrew. Id liked him from the start. I just didnt like him like that. Davids delusional , a part of my brain whispered to me. But another part was putting together puzzle pieces I had wondered about before. The way he was always asking if I wanted to hang out or seeing if I wanted to have lunch or coffee to talk about the paper. When we'd kissed last year, I had said it was a mistake. I had apologized. I had told him that I would never do anything to threaten our friendship. He had just nodded his head in agreement. But, ultimately, he had agreed with me. He didnt have to agree. So, it wasnt a date. "What do you like here?" I asked. "I haven't been since parents' weekend freshman year." He smiled. "Yeah, my parents love this place. Get the truffle pasta." I raised an eyebrow. Where is that? Its one of their specials. Its amazing. Just trust me. I nodded and closed my menu. Sure. I took a sip

of the wine. How is it? I only knew enough about wine to know that I didn't appreciate it. Its really great. He smiled. I'm glad you like it. It's a white burgundy. One of my mom's favorites." "Very cool." I looked around the restaurant uncomfortably. He didnt seem to have anything to say. I cleared my throat awkwardly and fiddled with my place setting. So, what do you normally drink?" he asked. "I don't know, honestly," I smiled. "Whatever's available. So this is a real treat." "I would've thought you knew more about wine." "Really? Why?" "You grew up so close to Napa." I lifted my shoulders haplessly. "Yeah. I don't know. I guess you'll just have to be the expert tonight." He laughed. Fine be me. "So." I cleared my throat. "Valentine's Day issue." It's a good idea. Juliet Robinson came up with it. You know Juliet? She does the local news roundup and campus crime report?" I nodded. "Of course, shes really good." "Right?" Andrew said. "Anyways, people don't read her articles. She did an article about sexual assault on campus in September. It got like 22 hits on the

website." I exhaled. "So, the alternative is writing about Valentine's Day?" "Its just changing the packaging. Love, sex, and relationships on campus. All the stuff that nobody talks about after freshman orientation like date rape and safe sex. We can make it personal. Juliet has spoken to a bunch of different people who said they'd be willing to write about their experiences." I sighed. "It's a good idea, Hadley. Whats your problem with it? he smiled. "Its a newspaper," I said. "Our job is to cover the news. It's not to be advocates for social change or to celebrate a holiday. I mean, Andrew, come on. It's like doing an Easter issue to draw attention to the plight of factory farm animals. He grinned. "Except for its a secular holiday and the victims aren't factory farm animals but fellow students. And Valentines Day is a relationship holiday. Its not a stretch to do an issue that deals with relationships. I opened my mouth and then closed it. I sipped my wine. Andrew smirked and I sighed. "Listen, I know you hate Valentine's Day," Andrew said. "I don't hate it. I think it's stupid," I said. "I also think my mother's kitten Priscilla is stupid and I adore her.

And I'm not saying we should cover these issues. We should. But we shouldn't use sex and the color pink to package them." "Valentine's Day is not just about sex." "Yeah, it's also about pink. And flowers. And chocolate. And teddy bears. None of which are newsworthy. He laughed. Youre such a cynic. You don't think it's at least a little bit about relationships?" I took another sip of wine and Andrew reached for the bottle. He refilled my glass and then his. I shook my head. "It's not at all about relationships. It's about sex. You and I have a relationship. David and I have a relationship. Juliet and I have a relationship. And Valentine's Day isn't about any of those relationships. It's about relationships between people having sex with each other. Or between people who want to have sex with each other. Andrew gave me a small smile. "You really think that's the only difference?" Yeah. Otherwise people would marry their best friends all the time, I said. "Some people do. "Do what?" "Marry their best friends. I shook my head. The whole thing is antiquated. Marriage was a social construct to protect property and

ensure that women with children werent abandoned. It doesnt make biological sense. It made social sense before the advent of birth control, but now it's basically a moot point. It's on the decline: marriage, relationships, all that." God, you really are from San Francisco, arent you? I grinned. It cant come as a shock to you that Im not a romantic. Welleven unromantic people fall in love. I loathe that phrase. Seriously? Andrew asked, with a smile. The idea that people fall in love, I said. It sounds so sloppy. You just fell? Really? Andrew laughed at me. What? Its ridiculous. Control your emotions. Can you imagine if criminals went around saying they fell into hatred or jealousy and thats why they killed four people or robbed the bank? We act like love is this uncontrollable thing. But when it comes to anger and all of that ugly stuff, were expected to control it. Were supposed to handle those emotions without hurting anyone. But throw out the word love and everyone thinks all of the rules should go right out the window and who can help it if someone gets hurt? Its absurd and its degrading, honestly, that we expect people to control themselves except for when it comes to wanting to sleep with someone. Oh, come on, he said. Its about more than

sex. I dont think it is. Its sex and not wanting to be alone. Everyone is afraid to be alone. Yeah, well, Andrew shrugged. Who wants to end up alone? I wouldn't mind," I said. "Well, you're good company," he pointed out. So if it was just me, myself, and I until the end of time, Id probably be okay with that. Andrew bit his lip, withdrawing from the argument. Yeah, well. He finished his wine and refilled the glass. The waitress set down our entrees. Yeah, well what? I asked, amused at how personally he was taking my refusal to believe in people falling in love. He looked away from me. He looked like he suddenly thought dinner was a bad idea. Not everyone likes themselves that much. I caught the soft look in his eyes. "Sorry." I bit my lip. "I mean, I like you a lot better than I like myself. He managed a weak laugh. Thank you. That makes one of us. He cleared his throat. I just think people our age dont want to put themselves out there anymore. And so they dont. And so nobody actually falls in love. They play it safe. And thats why everyone keeps getting hurt. Youre supposed to fall in love. My parents

got married when they were twenty. And theyre still married. I raised my eyebrows. My parents got married when they were twenty-one and they arent. Well, thats the thing, its a crapshoot. But you have to play the game. Why? He hesitated. I dont know. So you can have a family and stability and someonesomeone to come home to. He had such an earnest look in his eyes just at that moment. I wanted to promise him that he was going to fall wildly in love and laugh so hard when he remembered how he used to think he might end up alone. But who really knew? We all worried sometimes. Even the ones of us who were sure it would all work out had to remind ourselves that we would be okay. We all have our own doubts. We all have weaknesses. Even in our strong places, we have weaknesses. After wed discussed separatists in Libya and gun control in the Senate and whether the Northwestern basketball team could possibly get any worse this year, we shared dessert and Andrew got the bill. I was sure it was exorbitant. "We should split it," I said. Andrew shook his head. "Please. I ordered the

wine." "Well, I drank it," I insisted. Andrew smiled and shook his head again. "No way, Hadley." He handed his card to the waitress and leaned back. "Well," I smiled. "Youve convinced me on Valentine's Day. Well do the issue. Juliet can run it." He laughed. "Yeah? You sure. Absolutely. I really just wanted to take you to dinner. So, don't feel obligated." "Ah," I said awkwardly. Well, I dont feel obligated. You made a good argument. He signed the credit card slip. "Ready to go?" "Whenever you are." I was slightly tipsy from the wine, and my boot slipped on the carpet. I giggled nervously when Andrew caught my hips. "I haven't been this full since Thanksgiving," I told Andrew. Its throwing off my center of balance. He laughed, leaving his hand on my lower back. There just wasnt a graceful way to pull away. We turned towards the door. And thats when I saw a pair of dark eyes across the room. Dark and doe like and briefly vulnerable. Bambi eyes. Jacks eyes. They flashed and looked away. I stopped,

wavering, and Andrew stopped, too. Whats up? Andrew asked. Jack was sitting across the table from Robert Riley. Hed looked away from me already, though from a distance I could see a tight ball of tension in his jaw. His handsome face betrayed nothing else. I wondered what they were talking about. Riley was speaking intently and Jack was nodding. He wasnt wearing plaid, but a dark zip-up sweater. It made him look just a few years older and a shade more serious. It made him look good. Even better than usual. If he knew I was staring, he gave me no sign. He obviously had no intention of saying hello. Hadley? Andrew repeated. Everything okay? Yes. Yeah. Sorry, I said. I faked a yawn, turning to smile uncertainly at Andrew. I told myself it didnt matter. That Jack surely was upset about something unrelated to me. He wasnt my boyfriend. Neither was Andrew. I wasnt on a date. It was for the newspaper. That was the whole reason Id said yes. I managed to twist away from Andrew at the door, wrapping my arms around my body and scurrying to the car. I leaned my head against the cold car window when we got in. Thanks for dinner, I said, as he started the car and blasted in the heat. He smiled. Yeah. That was fun. We should do

that again. Mm, I nodded noncommittally. The brief drive to my apartment was quiet except for the sound of a late night NPR host droning on about drones. I yawned again when we reached my place. Ill walk you up. You dont have to do that. I smiled. Im good. Ive got mace and everything. Andrew bit his lip. Well, we should do this again. I rubbed my chin. I dont know if we should make a habit of it. I smiled. You might go broke. He leaned towards me for a kiss. I ducked my head, kissed his cheek, and unbuckled my seatbelt in one motion. I opened the door and shivered in the cold air. Yeah. Well, have a good night, Andrew said. He was embarrassed and I felt a twinge of guilt. You too, I said. Seriously. Thanks, Andrew. He smiled tightly. No problem. I closed the car door and jogged upstairs, shaking out my hands, which had gone numb. When I reached the second floor, I saw David and Ben standing in the open doorway to our apartment. Ben cradled Davids face in his hands and kissed him tenderly. They both smiled at each other for a long moment before Ben dropped his hands, kissed Davids forehead, and turned to go.

The door closed before either noticed me. Ben turned towards the stairwell, his head down. When he looked up, he saw me. Hey, he said to me. How was the date? I couldnt believe he was trying to have a conversation with me. It wasnt a date. Ben grinned. Got it. You know, you sound like me. I never think anything is a date either. I glared at him. I couldnt help myself. I am nothing like you, I said fiercely. Ben jerked his head back. Relax. It was a joke." Look, I dont know who the fuck you think you are. I think Im Davids boyfriend. Is that what you think? I asked. Ben smirked. Do you want to ask David?" If you ever hit him again, Im calling the cops, I said. And then Ill ruin your life. I mean it. Ruin it. Ben looked taken aback. He shook his head. David wouldnt want you to threaten me, Hadley. We got into an argument. I told him I was sorry. But, you really need to keep your mouth shut. Alright? You need to give David a break. I shook my head. I mean it. If you hit him again, Im calling the cops. Thats not okay. Ben shook his head. It was a disagreement. You wouldnt understand.

He tried to step around me and I stopped him. No. I do understand, I said. I understand a lot better than you because I was the one who took care of him. Ben was quiet. He couldnt even talk, he was so upset, I said icily. His eye was swollen shut and he lost a tooth. Dont tell me I dont understand. Ben was quiet. He licked his lips. He didn't tell me that. I didnt know that. I didnt mean to hit him that hard. What do you mean, you didnt mean to hit him that hard? I just wanted him to shut up and listen, he said. He exhaled. Listen, I screwed up. Alright? You dont need to tell me that. I snapped. You have no idea how sorry I am. Ask David. No. I dont care, I said. I dont care what David says and I dont care how bad you feel. If you hurt him again, Im calling the cops. David doesnt have the most normal idea of what a healthy relationship looks like. Ben looked at me, bewildered. We have a healthy relationship. Im not like his goddamn family. I care about him. Well, do a better job of showing it, I said. You could start by acknowledging he exists when you ask him

to meet you at a fucking bar. Ben shook his head. Have a good night, Ben, I said sarcastically, stepping around him and walking to the apartment door. I took a deep breath before I pushed it open, making sure Ben had retreated down the hallway. David was sprawled on the couch, swooning. Hey, girl. Hey, I replied. I smiled, trying not to shake from my confrontation with Ben. David really would be furious if he knew. How was your date? Wasnt a date? Did he try to kiss you? I exhaled. You owe me twenty dollars. I rubbed my chin. Jack was there. Shit, David said. I nodded. Yeah, thats bad, right? David shrugged. I mean, it wasnt a date, right? "I think Andrew thought it was, I said. But, no, I didnt. I glanced over to the counter. Flowers in a vase. Gardenias. I hadn't noticed them before. Ben? I asked. David bit his lip. Yeah. He came to apologize. I nodded once. Figured. David was quiet. It wont happen again.

You trust him? I do. Because I mean, if you want to report it. I can corroborate everything. Hadley. Would you please just drop it? I didnt say anything for a moment. Well, the flowers are nice. He nodded and got up. I should put them in water. He smiled. You want tea? I shook my head, feeling profoundly sad all of a sudden. No. Im just going to call it a night. He smiled. Okay. I watched him turn towards the sink, humming underneath his breath, to fill the vase with water, adjusting the stems so the flowers fanned in a wide circle. I turned and walked towards the bedroom, thinking of Jacks flash of sadness, and then anger, and then indifference at the restaurant. It was so easy to see so many things if you just stopped for the briefest moment and watched closely enoughJacks knotted jaw, Davids trembling lips, Andrews flat, hurt eyes, even the way Ben wore his fear of being found out in the deep furrow of his brownall of the pain they tried to bear in silence had signed its signature so clearly across their half-broken faces.

Chapter Twenty-One
I didn't hear from Jack for three days. It wasn't an intelligent thing to fixate onnot when I needed to make a decision about USA Today , keep up with Arabic homework, and avoid looking like an idiot in Rileys class. But I was fixated. So much so that I didn't hear the question Riley asked me Friday afternoon. "Anyone home?" Riley demanded. I looked at him blankly. "I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention." "What do we mean by conflict-sensitive journalism?" "Journalism that actively works to reduce conflict, encourage resolution," I said. He nodded. "Can that kind of journalism ever be unbiased?" I paused. "Well, according to Ross Howard, yes. And it encompasses more than writing articles that will encourage people to be nice to one another. Part of conflict-sensitive journalism is just good journalism. Not relying on the statements of spokesmen, looking to report on, say the opinions of low-ranking members of the military or unarmed civilians, acknowledging widespread beliefs without necessarily validating them. Riley nodded. "Good. And why do journalists

have an obligation to follow Howards principles?" "Because journalists are mediators. They make choices on what to communicate and how to communicate it. When you frame a conflict in Syria, for example, as intractable, you also inform the opinion of someone halfway around the world reading your paper. And that has real-world effects. Riley nodded. He glanced at the clock. "Exactly. We'll be concluding our ethical inquiry into reporting from areas of conflict next week and moving onto specific conflicts in our modern world. We will also be doing the first round of profiles in courage," he said. "You'll each be assigned a journalist who lost his or her life in combat. Frame it as a short, retrospective magazine piecewho she was, what he did, how she died, what he wrote that we will remember, and what do we learn from it." He looked around the classroom and nodded. "Be safe this weekend, please." The class cleared out quickly. On Mondays and Wednesdays, people always hung back to talk to him, but at four-thirty on a Friday afternoon, everyone sped out the door. I took my time deliberately, waiting so that the room would be empty when I asked him for help. When the door closed and it was just me and him, I looked up. "Professor Riley?" He nodded. "Yes."

"I was wondering if maybe I could talk to you about my career after college," I said. He nodded, like hed tolerate me for a few seconds I have a job offer. I dont know if I should take it. " "Yeah. Where at?" "USA Today." He nodded. "Not a bad paper." "Yeah. The position is at the D.C. bureau. Politics. And I'm not that interested in policy. And I d "Turn it down," he said flatly. "Well, I don't have another offer." "Well, get another offer." I smiled weakly. "Right." "Listen. You're a smart kid. And you're tough." He paused. "You're the Editor-in-Chief of the undergrad paper, yeah?" "Yeah. "Scrap a little bit," he said. "They tell you a lot of things about job interviews, but it's not a tea party." "Yeah, okay." "Where else have you interviewed?" "Just The New York Times ," I said. "For the Africa bureau. I didn't get it." He nodded. "They say why?" I nodded. "Not enough experience."

You sure you dont want to do policy? I want to do conflict and combat in the Middle East, I said. Maybe I could like policy, but "Don't take it if you already know its not what you want," he said. "Nobody likes a journalist who doesn't seem committed. When you tell them in two years you want something different, they're not necessarily going to give it to you then either. You speak Arabic, right, kid? I nodded. "Yeah. He nodded once, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette. I might have something from you. Really? Dont get excited, he said. Ill make a phone call. He opened the door, letting me out before him and I grinned broadly. Professor Riley, thank you. He nodded once. A word of advice, Arrington? Youre going to have to get into the habit of telling people what you want if youre going to have a fighting chance at it. He gave me a knowing look. I bit my lip, thinking about Jack rather than journalism when he said that. I want to talk to you, Jack. I nodded. Right. I mean it, he said. Youre too talented to fuck around. I grinned. Thanks. He nodded, dismissing me, and I walked away,

knowing I should talk to Jack, knowing I should tell him that it seemed like he was ignoring me and I wanted to know why. Maybe it was all about seeing me with Andrew, but I felt sure I had told him Andrew was just a friend. I texted him as I walked to the parking lot. Are you free? Yeah. I waited long enough to be sure he wasn't going to ask me to come over. Keeping Rileys advice in mind, I texted him: Do you want to come over? Nothing. I reached my car and made a face. Or I can come there? He wrote back right away: Yeah, if you want. If you want. Meaning he didnt really care. Well, I did care. I wanted to see him and ask him why he'd been acting weird. Which he totally had been. So I drove to the frat house, parked my car, walked past a snowman-building contest deteriorating into a drunken snowball fight in the front yard, and up the stairs. I stepped into the house without knocking. Jack sat slumped down on a couch in the living room, texting on his phone with one thumb, and sipping a beer. He sat in between Xander and a kid named Nate, both of them too riveted by a basketball game to notice

me. Jack did though. He looked surprised. "Hey," I said softly. Hey, he said. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees, and turned his attention fully to the basketball game on the screen. "What do you want?" he asked coolly. "What's your problem?" Nate asked him, chuckling. Jack shrugged. I leaned my head towards the door. "Should I go?" He looked at me shamelessly, like he could see right through the jacket I was wearing. He took a long sip of his beer, without breaking eye contact. Christ, Diamond," Xander muttered. "Stop eyefucking each other and go to your room. Jack turned and looked at him. He stood up. Hey, he said to Xander. He was pissed off. Xander smiled casually. You know Im joking." He looked at me, saying it mainly for my benefit. Its not funny. Jack said shortly. He nodded at me. Upstairs?" I shrugged. "Sure." "Xander's fucking stupid," he muttered as we left the living room and walked up the stairs, towards his room. He closed the door behind me and took off his shirt roughly.

Well that was direct. He thought I was just here for sex. I cocked my head at him. Jack?" What? he asked roughly. What are you doing? He smiled sarcastically. I thought we werent going to ask each other personal questions, he said. Maybe he saw the hurt in my eyes. He looked away. "Youre mad about dinner. "You lied. I exhaled. "How exactly did I lie?" "I thought you didn't date anyone," he said. He had stopped smiling. "You told me that, right?" "It's complicated, but "Complicated? You go to dinner with Andrew Brenner and you fuck me? No, that's not complicated," he smiled bitterly. "I mean this is fun and all, Hadley. This is really fucking great. But, dont tell me you don't date people when all you really mean is you don't take me seriously. And don't tell me something is complicated when it's actually really simple." "Andrew is the managing editor of the paper," I said. "He wanted to discuss a Valentine's Day issue." "He took you to dinner to talk about Valentine's Day?" The Valentines Day issue of the newspaper." I ran my hand through my hair. "And let me finish. I already

told you it wasn't a date. Im not lying to you You Would you let me finish? He looked at me. Fine, finish." I didn't have time to talk about the issue last week and I said we'd talk over dinner to get him off my back," I said. "I thought we'd go to Chipotle or something. I didn't even remember I'd agreed to dinner until five minutes before and he had to drive me home to change because he'd made a reservation at Mill House." He laughed bitterly. "Right." "That's what happened!" "I know you," he said. "You wouldn't have gone if you didn't want to. You say 'no' like nobody's business." Its different. How is it different? Because hes not like you, I snapped. Jack stepped back, hurt. "Right. Well, good to know where I stand." You dont know where you stand. Obviously. We wouldn't be having this stupid argument if you did. Hes...hes nothing like you. He doesnt.he doesnt scare me like you do. I took a breath. I dont think you understand how much you scare me, Jack. He was quiet for a second. He took half a step towards me. He spoke softly. Hadley, how the hell do I scare you?

I looked at him and whispered, You just do. Why? Because I like you. You're my friend and I'm sleeping with you and I just like you. I like having you around and I'm not used to that." Oh," he said. "Well, I like you, too." "Right," I smiled sarcastically. "You've been dying to see me." He took a step towards me and he reached for my wrists. He pulled me to him. His eyes were deep. Im sorry, he said. I just thought Im not dating him, I said softly. Okay, he said. He pressed his forehead to mine. He undressed me slowly, kissing me everywhere. He took his time. Something deeper that words passed between us when we had sex. He said things without speaking and I understood without hearing. I understood that he was a little lost and confused. He understood that I was stressed out and afraid that everyone would find out how much I was faking it. He could taste that I was afraid of so many things. Even him. Especially him. His mouth and his muscles and his hands knew me well. They loved me well. I caught my breath curled against his shoulder. That was good, I whispered and he laughed gently. He kissed my stomach right above my hipbone. You excited to skydive?

Cant wait. He smiled. Good. I sat up and he ran his hands up my body once more. I should go, I said. He dropped a kiss on my neck. Hads? Yeah. You dont have anything to be afraid of, he whispered into my ear. I promise. When I finally left the frat house, I checked my email and found a short note from a New York Times editor. Hi Hadley, Rob Riley suggested you might be a good fit for a position in the Middle East this summer. I know you've interviewed for the Cairo bureau. Could you fly out for an interview next week? Dale Broussards I wrote back immediately, agreeing. I decided Jack might be good luck.

Chapter Twenty-two
"I have an interview," I told Jack, when I arrived at the frat house early Saturday morning, thinking about anything other than jumping out of a plane. "Where?" "The New York Times ," I said. I exhaled. "Your godfather actually helped me out." "I'll have to tell him to stop doing that," he said. We took Xanders old Jeep south of the city. Jack and I got the back seats. Xander and Nate took the front. I want everyone to know that this is a bad idea, Xander said. And it's all Jack's fault." Its not a bad idea, Jack said. He leaned his head against the cold window and I leaned my back against the door and put my feet in his lap. Whenever I looked over at him, he caught me staring and smirked. Youve done this before? I asked him. Yep, he said. Couple of times. Jacks skydiving solo, Xander told me, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror. "Everyone else is getting tied to a professional." Seriously? Have you done that before? By yourself? He nodded. "Yeah." "You've made this a hobby?" "Yeah." "Why?"

He smiled. Why not? Seems a bit extreme. We cant all be Editors-in-Chiefs in our free time. "Well, how'd you get into that?" Um, in Costa Rica, actually. When I was fourteen, he said. I did this outward bound type of thing after I got kicked out of boarding school. I raised my eyebrows incredulously. "What? Why?" "I don't know. It was Costa Rica." "I meant boarding school." I didnt do anything evil, he assured me. Marijuana. Very old-fashioned place. Not everyone is from San Francisco, you know. They probably taught you a class on how to roll a joint. Not quite, I said dryly. He smiled. I got kicked out of a few boarding schools actually. What for? Kid stuff, he said. Alcohol, breaking curfew, marijuana. Im not great with rules. I raised my eyebrows. Your rules are okay, he smiled. Anyone who bans flowers Im willing to listen to. I smiled and looked at him. Theyre just guidelines.

Really? So, you will go to dinner with me? I laughed. He chuckled back. Im seriously starting to hate this Brenner kid. Why? I asked. I dont know. Im just outraged you had the time for dinner with him. He grinned at me goofily. So, when will you find out if you get the Times job?" I dont know. Like a week after my interview probably, I said. "You should practice." He lifted his chin. Whats your greatest strength? What? Lets practice for your interview. No, I said, embarrassed. I wrinkled my nose at the idea of Xander and Nate and Jack hearing the answers to my interview questions. Come on." "No," I said. "What? You're suddenly shy? "It's just a personal question," I said. "Is that what you're going to tell the guy who interviews you?" "I'm going to tell the guy who interviews me that my greatest strength as a journalist is precision." Jack grinned. Whats your greatest weakness? I grinned. I have trust issues and watch reality

TV. What's yours?" He gave me a once-over. Brunette reporters. I laughed and my dark hair fell in front of my face. This is probably true, Nate chimed in. Jack doesnt even know how to attend a meeting and he managed to organize a mandatory meeting on your behalf. "It wasn't on my behalf," I said. "Yes, it was," Nate said. "He's the laziest person in the world. If you hadn't been the one asking, nothing would have happened." Xander and Jack chuckled. I looked at Jack and shook my head. "I don't think that's true." "No, really. He's profoundly lazy," Nate insisted. "I am," Jack told me. I shrugged. I still think hed have listened. "Seriously," Jack persisted. "Not into meetings at all. And I didn't think it would work, to be honest." "Why?" "Because the guys are immature and they thought it was funny," Jack said. He shrugged. "It's not like we have any real authority." "Yeah," Nate said. "It's a fraternity." "I know that," I said. "Being drunk and kind of homophobic is par for the course," Nate said. "Hadley's a little confused about Greek life. She

thought we were a pillar of responsibility. Nate nodded knowingly. "It's more like a club that supports underage drinking and loose morals." Jack laughed. "I don't think it's funny," I admitted quietly. "And it worked out. Everyone left him alone." I shrugged. "Maybe I'm nave and idealistic, but sometimes you have to be. Jack met my eyes and smiled. I never thought it was funny. I thought you were a little bit funny. We pulled up to the skydiving facility and for the first time all day, I acknowledged that I had agreed to jump out of a plane. Jump. Out. Of. A. Plane. In February. Fuck. Dont freak out, Jack said unhelpfully. "That's great advice." I wondered when he started being able to read me like that. I smiled at him, looking down the simple, paved runway. And I opened the car door. It was bitingly cold and it would be even colder when we jumped. Jack had signed the release forms before, and watched the safety videos. I watched them, too. Death, serious injury, all that jazz. I signed the form with a shaky hand. Just pretend you're writing a newspaper article in Egypt, Jack teased. I am absolutely going to kill you, I said.

Jack laughed. Trust me. I do trust you. Its the parachutes that Im suspicious of, I hissed. He laughed and kissed me lightly on the cheek. PDA. We hadnt talked about that. It should probably be against the rules, but I liked the way it felt, so I just leaned against him. Youre starting to be my good friend, Jack. Dont fuck this up. He nuzzled me under his chin and spoke softly. Look, you dont have to jump if youre really freaked out. I shook my head. Oh, screw you. I drove all the way out here. Im jumping out of a goddamned plane. He laughed and slipped his hands around my waist and he leaned into my ear and spoke very, very softly. I didnt think anything could feel as amazing as skydiving until I slept with you. I arched my head back. Oh, yeah? So, whats this? Double-checking? He laughed, shaking his head. No, Im sure. This is just to keep things interesting. A man named Jonesy buckled me into a harness while the plane idled nearby. Xander, Patrick, and I were all jumping tandem, while Jack was flying solo. Hed done this before, I told myself. There was no reason to worry. The plane was noisy and I sat back on a bench, in

Jonesys lap, across from Jack, who grinned at me. Cozy? he asked. I made a made a face. I didnt think it was possible to have this many butterflies in your stomach. The plane taxied down the runway and surged through its take off. My chest tightened and my stomach went wild, as the earth shrunk below us. The engines roared in my ears. I could hardly hear the instructor who I was strapped to shouting in my ear. Alright, sweetheart, he said. Were going to open the door in just a minute and then were going to jump. Okay? Not okay. Not okay. So not okay. I shut my eyes until I heard them open the door. Alright, here we go, he said. Lets start moving. Okay, I breathed. We stood up and awkwardly moved to the door. The air was frigid. Actually, breathtakingly cold. Pull your goggles on, Jonesy shouted over the rattling engines. He walked me right to the edge of the plane. All I could hear now was the wind and the noise. I turned my head, panicked, and I looked at Jack. Hed risen to his feet to watch me go. And when I caught his eyes, I felt safe. And then we were standing outside the plane. The earth was spread out beneath us, flat, like an

unfurled map. Everything was white and gray for miles. I felt my toes just over the edge of the doorway. I felt my heart riot in my chest. My brain went clear. All I could see was the earth. All I could remember was that we were jumping. He pushed me out and we tumbled, the air was the sweet Jesus kind of cold, filling my mouth, rushing through my nose, stripping the warmth from my body and the air from my lungs. We flipped once, twice, three times and the dark line of the horizon spun in my eyes like a spinnaker. My neck strained against the pressure and then it didnt feel like we were falling at all. We were still dropping fast, but we were no longer accelerating. I was pressed tightly against Jonesys chest, with my arms up against his like a gliding bird. He opened the parachute and I felt tightness around my chest and arms as we came out of the freefall. We slowed and then we were just drifting over the earth. Oh my god, I murmured as I was flooded with endorphins. I felt like I was on drugs. I felt perfect. Like all of the things I ever worried about would never return. I never wanted to land. Even though my teeth chattered, I wanted to drift forever. Lift your feet up and then try to stand, Jonesy told me as we approached the ground. And thats just what I did. We landed gently. But my legs shook as we stood. He lightly touched my waist and unstrapped me and I sat

down. Holy shit, I said as I watched Jack dropping in alone. He came in faster, whipping through the wind. And he landed at a half-run, taking a few big steps forward and then jogging over to me, shucking off the harness. Holy shit, I repeated to him. He laughed and pulled me to my feet. I looked up at the sky. In the distance, we could see the other two parachutes opening and Nate and Xander drifting back to earth. Can we do that again? I asked breathlessly. He smiled and dropped his head. Standing in an open field, with a parachute still strapped to his shoulders, he kissed me deeper than anyone has ever kissed me before. And my knees buckled. They actually buckled. And the thing about your knees buckling that they never tell you in the movies is that usually youre never expecting it and usually neither is he. So he didnt catch me. The bastard. I caught myself on my hands, but not without feeling a sharp shooting pain in my knee, which twisted underneath me. Shit. Ow. Shit, I said, grabbing at the horrible stabbing in my left knee. Jesus. Are you okay? Did youwhat just happened? Jack asked. He helped me sit up.

I have a Charlie horse in my knee. Thats not possible. Oh my god, shut the fuck up, Im dying, I said. "Are you seriously hurt?" "Yes." "What happened?" "Me knees went out." "I made you weak at the knees?" "I'm serious. It hurts," I growled. Alright, alright, alright, he said. Hey! He shouted to one of the instructors. She hurt her leg. Can you They started running over and he looked back down at me. Babe, can you stand up? I dont know, I said. It really fucking hurts. And it did. It was like a stabbing pain, deep and penetrating and awful. I lay on the cold ground, breathing hard. Anyone who tells you that you should wait for that guy who makes you weak at the knees should be shot. Three hours later, I had crutches, Percocet, and a brace for my sprained knee. Sweetly, Nate and Xander had stuck out the whole ordeal in the waiting room while Jack tried not to laugh when I told the doctor that my knee just collapsed after hed kissed me. I hate you, I grumbled as he pushed the wheelchair to the doors. Actual, real hatred.

Thats against the rules, he said. Says who? Im making a rule. No hatred. Okay, flower child. Xander dropped me and Jack off at my apartment. He took my tote bag over his shoulder, giving me a look like he dared me to make fun of him, and helped me to the door. You need to take the elevator, he said. There is no elevator, I said, testing out my crutches on the staircase. Jack looked at me skeptically. You are going to die on these stairs. Dont be such an alarmist. I stumbled and he steadied me. No, no, no. Im not taking you back to the hospital tonight. He picked me up abruptly, like I was an infant and began walking up the stairs. I lolled in his arms. Id normally put up a fight, but I was sleepy and who the fuck wanted to walk up stairs when they were on painkillers and someone would carry them. I dont want to hear a goddamned word about how much I weigh. No more than eleven pounds, he said. Good answer, I replied dryly. We reached the stop of the stairs and he set me down.

What? No door-to-door service? I asked, putting down my crutches in the hallway and beginning the awkward jaunt to my apartment door. Fuck no, he muttered breathlessly. He took my keys and opened the door. David and Ben sat on the couch, smiling at each other, and both of them freaked out when they saw Jack. Seriously, Hadley? David said, annoyed. I had forgotten. I had completely forgotten that he planned on having Ben over. Shit, I muttered. Oh my God, David said in an entirely different tone when he realized I was on crutches. What happened to your leg? Did your parachute not open or something? I would be dead if my parachute didnt open, I said. She tripped, Jack said awkwardly. Jack looked at Ben, then at David, then back to Ben. David, right? I dont think weve officially met. He stepped towards him and shook his hand. He nodded at Ben. Whats up, Mitchell? So they knew each other. Great. I snuck a look at David. He was going to kill me. "Hey, Jack," Ben said, standing up. "How's it going? We were doing a chemistry project. You guys went skydiving? That's awesome. I'd love to try that some time. You know, when I don't have to meet with my assigned

partner for a mandatory project." He grinned nervously. At least he had the dignity to flush as he tried to disown David, tried to act like the only reason he'd ever spend time with him was because he'd been assigned. Jack's eyes flashed with what I was starting to recognize as his trademark look of silent fury. I was pretty sure he had put two and two together. He knew Ben was the kid who attacked David. "Yeah?" he said shortly. "Good luck with that." He turned back to me. "Come on. You need to lie down." "What's wrong with your leg?" David asked. "I sprained my knee." Let me. Do you need ice? David asked. I know hold on. I know we have ice. How did you sprain your knee, girl? He scrambled into the kitchen. Ben cringed when David called me girl. David caught it, too, biting his lip, embarrassed. And I glared at Ben angrily. I make her week at the knees, Jack joked. Um, well, I should go, Ben said. Look, I think you can take the rest of the project from here, right, Danny? Davids eyes flashed. Not with anger. With staggeringly insane heartbreaking hurt. Like hed been slapped across the face. Ben was pretending not to know him. Ben was pretending that he didnt remember his name.

His name is David, Jack said as I tensed. Ben flushed again and Jack turned his head to look uncritically at David. Oh, oh, sorry, wewe just met for the first time. Were lab partners, Ben offered lamely. "Don't apologize to me," Jack said. "Right." He turned to go. "You should apologize to David," Jack said. Ben stopped and looked at Jack and then at David. "Right, sorry." "Don't worry about it," David said, barely above a whisper. Ben was halfway out the door already though. He pulled the door shut so hard that the doorframe rattled. Heres ice, David murmured. His voice wavered. W-would you excuse me? He walked to his room quickly. "David, wait," I called after him. "David, come on." "Just let him. You need to lie down," Jack said. "Then we can get David." Im not as neat as you, so dont have a panic attack, I warned him when we reached my bedroom. I crawled into my bed. I heard Davids bathroom door close softly. So, Ben Mitchells gay? Jack asked, crawling

next to me on the bed. Dont tell anyone, I mumbled. Thats justwow. Dont Im not going to. Its just ironic, Jack said. He uses the word faggot more than any straight guy I know. Dont tell me this shit, I said. I can barely hear David say his name without wanting to hunt him down and David feels like I'm attacking him when I point out what a shit boyfriend he is." Hes the one who beat David up, yeah? I nodded. Jack ran a hand through my hair. Well, its certainly not your fault. I know that. He sighed. Hey, get David for me, I asked. He nodded but didn't move. Yo, David, he shouted. David, come in here. I meant get up and ask nicely. The walls are thin, Jack responded. I pushed him. "You are lazy." Jack didn't move. "He might want to be alone." "Please." Jack sighed, got to his feet and knocked on David's bedroom door. "Hey, man, whenever you get a second, Hadley wants to talk you."

"Yeah," David called back shakily. "Just a minute." Jack returned to my bedroom and lay down next to me. "Get under the covers." "No." "It's cold in here." He yanked at the sheets. "Do not do that." He gave me a perplexed look. "I don't like making my bed." "So don't make it," he said. "But I hate when it looks messy." He yanked at the covers, pulled them under and then over me. "Too late." "Asshole." David appeared, slightly red-eyed, a few minutes later. Hey, he said. How are you feeling? Loopy as fuck, I said. Get in here. David glanced warily at Jack and sat on the edge of my bed. "Hey, can I say something?" Jack asked. David looked at him twice as warily. "Ah, yeah." Was that your boyfriend? Jack asked. David shot me a look of betrayal. I didnt say anything, I insisted. Hes closeted. You cant tell anyone," David said.

"So, he's your boyfriend," Jack said. "Yes," David said. He's being a douche bag," Jack stated flatly. And then next time he hits you, hit him back. Hadley, David said, horrified. II had to talk about it with someone. Then talk about it with me. I looked at him pleadingly. You said to let it be. And so I did, but I had to tell someone. David crossed his arms and shook his head. Just butt out, okay? It seems like you have enough drama in your own personal life, as it is. Jack raised his eyebrows. Yeah, well No, Im fine. Ben and I are fine. I know what the deal is Hes going to pretend to forget your name in front o f Jack? Someone he barely even knows? Hed rather have Jack think he doesnt know you than have Jack possibly suspect that he might be friends with someone who is gay? Seriously? Hadley, I dont give a fuck. Dont you get that? I love him, David said. Well, Im really sorry, because the way things are going, its not going to end well. Jack glanced at me. Maybe you two should have this fight when youre both not so emotional.

Oh, shut up, David and I both yelled at him at the exact same time and in the exact same tone of voice. Jack looked at David and then at me. I saw him fighting a smile. "Right. Sorry," he exhaled. I threw my head back. David, I love you. I just think your boyfriends an asshole. Okay? I closed my eyes and waited to hear his voice. Fine, he said it tersely. Just, you know, try to stay out of it. I took in a deep breath and nodded. Yeah. Okay, I will. Youre my best friend, he said softly. Feel better. He closed the door softly behind him. Jack was quiet next to me. How you feeling? he asked, kissing my temple lightly. Ugh. Here. Why dont you take your painkillers and try to fall asleep? he asked. Do you want the TV on? Yeah. He flipped through the channels. What do you want? The news. He looked at me. You fall asleep to the news? I like to think I can hear it when Im sleeping. You are a psycho, he said. He left the room and

came back with a glass of water. He helped me sit up and take the pills. And then he set the crutches next to my bed, where theyd be easily to reach. He lay down next to me on the bed and we watched the headlines. This is what you fall asleep to? he smiled. You ever heard of lullabies? Or Planet Earth? Yes. But this is what I like, I said, curling into the covers. Violent demonstrations in Egypt? Yes. The tension in my knee had been so great, that I didnt truly begin to notice it until it had begun to dissipate. Disturbing, Jack teased. I felt Jacks hand in my hair, and I felt his lips brush the top of my head. Alright, just call me if you need anything, kid, he said. Hey? I reached for his wrist. In the darkened room, the word that broke our rules was easy to say: Stay. He hesitated. "Are you sure?" I nodded. "Yeah, I want you to stay." He kicked off his shoes and settled beside me and I drifted to sleep easily.

Chapter Twenty-three
I woke up groggily and in pain again. I swore as I sat up. And then I swore again when I saw Jack curled next to me. We were both fully clothed. We had been cuddling. Shit, I muttered. I reached for the crutches and the orange bottle of Percocet and choked another pill down. Jack stirred. He blinked open his eyes and sat up suddenly. He looked at me and then at the TV screen. Hey, CNN is really like a lullaby, he murmured, as the morning headlines rolled across the screen. You okay? Yeah, just a little sore, I said, leaning forward in the bed for my phone. My knee was a problem, but it felt like a small problem compared to Jack sleeping over. I scrolled through my textsnothing important or interesting. And then I checked my email. Andrews new memo to staff writers on factchecking. Justins article, which he was having trouble sourcing. An email from Dale Broussards confirming my interview on Thursday. It was hard not to be happy about that. I grinned broadly. "What?" Jack asked. "Nothing," I said. "You're smiling like an idiot."

"Its nothing," I said. "Just the job I'm interviewing for. Im excited. Jack held out his hand for my phone. "Let me see." I handed my phone over. He scanned the email quickly and handed the phone back to me with a noncommittal nod of his head. "Neat." I guess I should've known he wouldn't be too excited about jobs, given his aversion to them. I yawned. "David's cooking," I said, hearing the sound of him in the kitchen. "I was going to say it smells amazing. When can I move in? I gave him a look and got to my feet shakily. "Easy, tiger," he said, springing out of bed. "Where you going?" "To brush my teeth." "Let me help you." "Brush my teeth?" I bet you dont have an extra toothbrush. You can use mine, I offered. He made a face. Your mouth has had worse. He chuckled at me as I limped to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, slumped against my crutches. I couldnt believe I had sprained my knee. I had an interview for a job in Syria, reporting on massive upheaval and unrest. What was I going to tell the

New York Times when they asked how I sprained my knee? Some boy made me weak in the knees? That I couldnt handle a kiss? If I had ever felt less cut out for serious journalism, I couldnt remember it. I spat and washed out my mouth. And Jack and I had moved to sharing toothbrushes. Fabulous, I thought sarcastically. I crutched out to the kitchen where David was working seriously on blueberry pancakes. Hey, he said with a smile as I sat down. Just in time. He handed me a plate with two pancakes. Ah, youre the best. Seriously, the best, I said. I smiled and took a bite. Jack came up behind me and kissed my neck, surprising me. I ducked away from the kiss, laughing. So, I have another interview with the Times, I told David. "Seriously? That's so amazing." David handed Jack a plate. I nodded. "Just have to come up with a good story for the crutches. I mean, I probably wont get it, but Oh, please, David said. Youll get it. I looked over at Jack, who was working on a large mouthful of blueberry pancakes. Okay, now I get why you dont want to have sleepovers, Jack said once he swallowed. I dont have a David and you dont want to share his breakfast.

David grinned. You dont need to share. There are enough carbohydrates for an army here. I am an army, Jack replied. He gave me a sharky look and I took a bite of pancakes, rolling my eyes. Hadley, what do you contribute to this operation? Jack asked. She makes the coffee. When shes not wounded, David explained. Oh, that must be tough, pressing a button. Mm-hmm, I said. Youre an asshole. Maybe thats why I dont have you sleep over. So, how d i d that happen? David asked. He smiled. "I don't think I got the story last night. Jack said something about weak knees." I told you, Jack said. I kissed her. She fell. I had just jumped out of a plane, I said. "And I'd skipped breakfast. So, I'd say low blood sugar." David smiled. "So, wait, tell me about the interview. What's the job exactly?" "It's for a job that's split between New York and the Middle East. Responding to crises as needed, basically." "That's perfect for you." Jack nodded once. He stared at his pancakes. What do you mean by crises? Like, violent conflict, mainly, I said. At least, in the Middle East. But, really, probably any major news

in the region. Id probably be focused in Syria, but it all depends on what needs to be covered. You really want to do that? Well, yeah. I mean, have you thought about it? Sorry? I mean, have youhave you really thought about what working in a violent, misogynistic region of the world could be like on a day-to-day basis? he asked. "Are your parents okay with that?" "Obviously, Ive thought about it. Its my dream job. And I'm an adult. Though, I doubt my parents care." He sipped his orange juice. I bet they care. Why? "Why?" he repeated. "Because you're their kid and you're talking about going into an actual war zone. With a notepad instead of a gun. I raised my eyebrows. "Are you serious right now?" "My mother would absolutely kill me if I told her I was going to be a reporter in Middle Eastern conflict zones. Thats all. David met my eyes. Will your parents care? Only if they notice, I said. My father would probably care. But, Id have to get the job first and then hed have to decide to check up on me or my mom. Id probably be in the Middle East by the time he figured it.

How are they not going to notice that you're working in like, Afghanistan or Syria or whatever?" Jack asked. Look. I haven't even interviewed yet," I said. "And I have no idea what will happen if I do get the job. And my parents aren't going to notice because my parents are super self-absorbed. And it doesnt matter. They don't want me to be any kind of journalist. So, if I end up doing it in the Middle East, it won't make any difference." Why dont they want you to be a journalist? Jack asked. They think its stupid. They think I wont get paid anything and that its a huge fucking waste of my time and energy. I snapped at Jack. These, by the way, just so you have a little background, are two people who couldnt stand to be on the same continent as one another, but on this, they agree. Its a dying industry, its low-paying, and nobody gives a shit. Point taken. I still want to do it. Jack shook his head. Thats not what I said. Well. Thats not what I said, he repeated stubbornly. What you're trying to do is dangerous. Thats all. I didnt mean you shouldnt be a journalist. I exhaled. Oh. He smiled. So, you can relax. He took another bite of his blueberry pancakes. I watched the lines of his shoulder. The way he moved his fork. Something about

that made me fall a little in love. Or lust. He caught me looking at him and smiled. Youre not getting any of my pancakes, he said, glancing at my empty plate. These are mine. I laughed and for a moment, the tension diffused. But there were still so many unresolved things. The fact he slept over. The way I just freaked out at him over my parents. Davids boyfriend. The whole goddamned newspaper resting squarely on my shoulders.

Chapter Twenty-Four
What would happen? I asked Andrew. If we just didnt put a paper out. He gave me a look. He had been none too impressed with my I-sprained-my-knee-while-skydiving story and he seemed further annoyed by my suggestion that Northwestern could survive a day without us. Added to the fact that I told him he needed to act as Editor-in-Chief when I left for New York for my interview, I was pretty sure Andrew had had enough. If you need a break, I can do it today. I dont need a break, I said. Im just wondering what would happen. I dont know, Hadley, he said wearily. Id rather not think about it. I chewed on my lip. Id gone over my rsum two dozen times. Id practiced answers to every interview question Id ever heard. And Id researched my interviewer fanatically. All that was left to do was to perform flawlessly in the interview. I drove over to Jacks after Id wrapped up all of the final details for the next days issue. He was lying on his bed, reading. He barely heard me clatter in on my crutches. Mmm. Hey. Youre getting good at that, he said with a grin. Thank you, sir. I tried to curtsey on the crutches

and nearly wiped out. He nodded. I have something for you. I smiled. Yeah? He tossed me a New York Knicks sweatshirt. For the plane. So you dont look like a helpless Midwestern tourist. I rolled my eyes. I dont look like Sh he said. Im from California. Helpless California girls and tourists from the Midwest are all the same to New Yorkers. I rolled my eyes and pulled on the sweatshirt, balancing on one leg. He kissed me deeply. He pushed a strand of hair behind my ear. Maybe we should have put the sweatshirt on after we fucked, he murmured. Mm, I said, kissing him back. You might have a point. Because I sort of like all of the stuff under the sweatshirt. Ive really gotten in my own way here. I chuckled as he kissed my neck even more gently than usual. He shuffled me to the edge of the bed and pulled the sweatshirt over my head. He pulled my t-shirt over with it. And then he undressed himself. Can you do this? he asked, gesturing at my knee. I nodded. You sure? Positive.

He smiled. Good. He was feather light with his touches. It was difficult for me to move, but he was perfect. He cradled one knee in his arm, barely allowing it to sway, and he was so sweet and he was so gentle that it felt like even more than just good sex. It started to feel a lot like a crush. Or maybe, if I let my guard down for half a second, a little bit more than even a crush.

Chapter Twenty-Five
I was just in New York for a single day. A single chaotic day that started at OHare airport and ended back there the same night. The interview process had been grueling, six hours of rapid-fire questions. I had taken a class once on the criminal justice system. Id learned how aggressive investigators would ask the same questions over and over so the suspect would start to forget what he had said and would start to question what he remembered. I felt a bit like that by the time I was handed off to an editorial assistant who walked me out of the labyrinthine office complex. Well call you, she told me. Great, thank you, I replied. And then I crutched down 8th Avenue, hailed a cab, zipped through Kennedy airport, and got on a plane back to Chicago. I wearily passed out leaning against the window. I couldnt believe all of that had happened in the space of one day. The way we travel now makes everything go so fast, its like it hardly happened at all.

Chapter Twenty-Six
I feel like youre not eating, Jack said. So, I need to take you out for dinner. Half of the fraternity was over for a pledge class celebration, and it was dinnertime. We were holed up in Jacks room and I was not prepared to crash an all-male fraternity dinner. I gave Jack a suspicious look. Thats against the rules. You broke the sleepover rule, he pointed out. That was your fault. I was drugged. I was ready to go. But you were all like stay, he whispered in breathy imitation of me. I laughed. I was not. It was like when the Titanic was sinking and the redhead was all like, oh my god, Im so cold, lets hold hands. It was not like that. Jack, never let go. I mean, what was I supposed to do? You werent on drugs, I said, flushing. Never let go, Jack, he whispered. Never let go. That is the worst imitation of Kate Winslet ever. Im not doing Kate Winslet. Im doing Hadley Arrington, he grinned. And Im buying you fucking dinner. If youre that worried about the rules, we can go to

McDonalds. They dont serve food. Its all plastic products that happen to be edible. So, we dont even have to call it dinner. UghId rather have dinner. There you go again. Breaking rules. He smiled. We walked down the stairs. Well, he walked. I crutched. I was getting good at crutching. I got into his car and put my feet up on the dashboard. He grinned at me. So, when do you find out about the job? Oh, I dont want to think about it, I told him. I looked out the window. Jack still didnt really know what he wanted to do. What about you? You ever think about next year? He laughed. Fair enough. No, seriously. Im not asking to be a bitch. What about you? I asked. He made a helpless noise. II feel like you dont believe me when I say I dont know. I just...I dont know. What about skydiving? I asked. He laughed bitterly. What? I asked. You said you loved that. You could be an instructor. With a Northwestern degree? Who cares? Do what makes you happy. Thats the thing, Hadley. I just...I dont care about anything enough, he shrugged.

You love to read. You love to skydive. You love your friends, I said. You care about a lot of shit. Point taken. Look, Im sorry I asked. Can we drop it? What are you going to do if you dont find a job? He shrugged. Might stay in Chicago actually. Really? I looked at him. Yeah. Bobbys working on a book. He said I could be his research assistant. He shrugged. So, thats an idea. Thats a great idea, I said. He looked at me. I flinched at the look, which was one of sheer annoyance. Im not a pet project, Hadley. Its not that I cant get a job. Im not looking for a reason. Well, whats the reason? Everyone's always looking for something else to make them happy. New apartment. New girlfriend. New dog. New job. None of it every makes anyone happy. The looking just distracts the hell out of you from whats actually going on, which is your life. Okay. I closed my eyes briefly. But even if doing something wont make you happy, it could still be worth doing. And having worth Hadley, he said shortly. You dont even want to be my girlfriend. Why do you care if I have a job or not? Well, that was a bit harsh. I looked at him while he drove. I dont want to be anyone's girlfriend right now."

Right. I dont. Got it, he said. I dont think it usually works out. Everyone breaks up. Or else they get married. Or they get married and then divorced. Or they cheat. I looked at him. Or they turn out to be a liar. Orand this is what really scares meone person gives up everything they actually want for a few years of love and lust and they find out it wasn't worth it. But you dont know. You can never really know whats going on in someone elses head. No matter how much time you spend with them or how much sex you have or anything. You dont know. He sighed. And the point isnt that I dont want you to be my boyfriend. The point is that I dont want anyone to be my boyfriend. Nobody." He breathed. Christ. Forget it. Okay? Im not ashamed of you, I added, for emphasis. I dont care if you dont get a job. You just talk about not having one an awful lot for someone who supposedly doesnt give a shit. And were supposed to be friends. I didnt mean it like that. I justthis is a stupid conversation. Sorry I brought it up. I took a deep breath. We had reached a Mexican restaurant that I liked. It was popular with almost everyone who ever ate there. The quesadillas were

always piping hot, buttery, and mouthwateringly cheesy and the guacamole tasted like it was imported from Mount Olympus. Plus, Ive always been a sucker for margaritas. Jack opened my door, which was not just gentlemanly but actually necessary, with the crutches. He smiled when he took my hand and helped me out. Sorry, he said, sincerely. My mom keeps asking me a lot of the same questions. Its been bugging me a bit. And Xander thinks he should be on my case about it. And then, you know, after him, youre likebasically my best friend. That meant so much to me. Youre basically my best friend too. After David? Well, I havent quite ranked everyone yet. He laughed when I said that. But youre up there, kid. Dont worry. We sat in a corner booth and ordered margaritas and guacamole. I sat with my legs stretched out and Jack smiled at me when I knocked a whole margarita back in one long gulp. Bad girl. I have to drive. I grinned and ordered a second. I dont. And you said you wanted to see me really drunk. He smiled. As long as you stay conscious. Oh, Im not going to fall asleep. I promise. You better not. He dipped a chip into the guacamole and popped it in his mouth with a crunch.

Maybe it was the sprained knee or the sleep debt or the interview. Maybe I just wanted to have fun. I dont know, but I got drunk. Somewhere, in between the quesadillas and Jacks joke about a set of triplets in Delta Delta Delta, I ended up really, really drunk and laughing really, really hard. And somehow so did Jack. Fuck, I can hardly read this receipt, he said squinting at him. Call Z. Tell him we need a ride. I took his phone giggling and called Xander. Sup, Diamond? he said. Hey, I said. Who is this? Hadley Arrington, I said. Oh. Jack gave you his phone? You guys are getting serious, huh? We need a ride. Tell him to call one of the pledges. He said call No, tell him to come, Jack said, pointing a finger at me and squinting one eye. Tell him its an emergency. He said no. Mergency, Jack repeated. Put him on the phone. Xander said. Hes too drunk to drive, I said. Is he too drunk to talk on the phone, too? Um. Yes.

Xander sighed heavily. Where are you? Mexico. Jack burst into laughter and grabbed the phone. Were at Pedros. He laughed at whatever Xander said to him. Yeah, well, I knew youd say yes to her. See you in a few, buddy. He put away his phone and looked up at me. Got us a ride. I procured the ride. You didnt procure shit. Thats my friend. Yeah, but I got him to come to Mexico for us. When Xander called us to tell us to come outside, I moved as fast as I could on crutches. And Jack helped me into the front seat and jumped in the back. You two are irresponsible, Xander said. We called you, Jack giggled. What the hell did you do to him? I gave him some margaritas, I said indignantly. Why arent you more concerned about me? Because hes giggling. Im not giggling, Jack insisted. He kicked the back of Xanders seat. Hey, Xander said. Are we there yet? Jack demanded. Dont make me come back there, Xander scowled. We pulled up to the frat house and Jack jumped out of the car. He pulled me out. Come on, you cripple.

I laughed. He cupped my face in his hands. You got me drunk, he said. We got upstairs as fast as we could. He turned off all the lights and we went wild. Sometimes, when youre drunk, you miss the best parts about sex. Sometimes, though, when youre drunk, it feels as good as it looks in the movies. Too intoxicated to care about the clothes or the lights or what to do when he dipped his head like that. I came before he did, in a long, hard wave that blew black through my mind. There was nothing but Jack. I tried to catch my breath. I clung to his broad back for support. His hard muscles rippled under my hands as he came. Through the haze of the alcohol and the soft kisses and the intense high, he said very clearly and very possessively: I love you. He collapsed next to me, breathing hard. And the shockwaves running through my body ran cold. I love you. Isnt that what every girl wants to hear? From the guy shes sleeping with on a casual basis. Because she doesnt have time for a relationship. Which is just the thing that she says to people because shes actually so fucking terrified of getting her heart broken that she cant imagine risking it, not for a second. I breathed shallowly next to him as he curled me into his arms. He didnt seem to care that I hadnt said anything back. Or that I had tensed up next to him.

And he held me there, but I couldnt relax, and I couldnt fall asleep. And after a long time, I got up from the bed, put on my clothes and left.

Chapter Twenty-Seven
He didnt call me the next morning. And I didnt call him either. I sat on the couch with David, paralyzed by three little words that scared me. Three little words I didnt fully believe. It doesnt count if you say it during sex, David said. Dont freak out. I nodded. Right. Maybe he just meant it likeyou know, I love you right now? he said. Right. Either way, dont freak out. Right. I took a breath. I just dont want to let myself go like that. Do you love him? David asked. I shook my head. I cant do this, David. Why not? He looked at me. Hadley, you're not your parents. That cannot be an excuse for not going after something that could be really good." Its not an excuse. Its a reason. A good reason. And I'm trying to get this job. I'm trying to make sure the paper stays in good shape. I barely have time for classes." Well, what's the problem? If he loves you, what's so wrong about that? Why can't you go to class and love him? The problem is that he makes my head spin, I said, exasperated. We established the terms of the

relationship. We made rules. Which is what you wanted. But what if you want to change the terms? Would that really be the end of the world? I sighed. I dont want to change the terms Then, just, I dont know...tell him to hook up with someone else for awhile. I made a face. "I'm not telling him to hook up with someone else." Why not? Because it could ruin things. I like things the way they are. I dont want them to change. So, tell him that, David said. He was wearing Bens sweatshirt, which was big and loose on his skinny frame. Hows Ben? I asked. I had no idea how to tell Jack I didnt want anything to change. What was I supposed to say? Hey, can we talk about the fact that you said I love you last night? It sounded stupid. Even in my head it sounded stupid. He was drunk. It probably didnt mean anything. He might not even remember. David shrugged. Hes fine. They have a formal next weekend. Hes going with some girl. He should go alone if hes not going to take you. He thinks people suspect. He was mad Jack found out. He shrugged. He doesnt want us to be exclusive anyways. Anyways, I asked this guy out. If he's going to

see other people then so can I." I squealed. Who? He smiled. Friend of Nigels. He shrugged. His name is Sam. "Sam sounds great," I said enthusiastically. David nodded. He shrugged. Yeah. I would rather be exclusive with Ben. But I dont want it to be just me always waiting around for him while he puts on this big show. I mean, he doesn't let his guard down around anyone. You should absolutely see other people if he wants to see other people, I said. Thatll be fun. What are you doing? Dinner, movie, drinks. He shrugged. He sounded less than thrilled, but I was happy. Anyone who was actually out of the closet would be an improvement. "That will be great." "I don't know about that, but it can't hurt." Give it a chance. If hes not your boyfriend B e n is my boyfriend, David said, sounding suddenly heartbroken. He is. He just His voice caught. Fuck. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. This is pretty stupid, huh? Youre upset because he said I love you and Im upset because Ben never will. He laughed bitterly, shaking his head. Thats what you get. Whenever you have expectations, thats what you get. The exact opposite. He got to his feet. You want tea?

Sure, I said softly. The pain on his face was unbearable. He put the kettle on, composing himself. Im just pissed off. I meanIve done everything hes asked. Everything. I got a new haircut, because my last haircut was too gay. I dont dress like I want to. I dont ever make any plans, because the plans Id make would be at places hed never go to. All of my friends aside from you are just like, not even in the picture anymore. I rubbed my chin. Have you told him that? No, because hes under so much pressure just seeing me, David said. Im the first guy hes ever been with for more than a night. He keeps telling me how big of a risk hes taking. But He shook his head. I want it to be real. Tell him that. Tell him all that. What you just told me. You deserve real. I justI know hell break up with me. Thats his loss though, David. If he breaks up with you, then good riddance. You deserve those things. You deserve to see your friends and to wear your hair however you want to wear your hair. Its your goddamned hair. He smiled. Its not his hair. Your hair. He laughed. Yeah. Yeah. I know. But its hard. It is hard, I admitted. Why is it so hard to talk

to people? Like, thats the main thing we do with each other. We talk. Technology. I dont think its that simple. I do. He lifted his shoulders. Think about it. You can basically figure out what someone is doing and thinking without asking them now. Facebook, Twitter, whatever. And if you have a question, you can text it. And thats like it never even happened. Talking. Talking is hard. He nodded. Well, I said. Fuck talking. I think we should do something fun. Just you and me. Like old times. He laughed. What do you want to do? Practically anything. Lets go into Chicago. Yes. Lets go into Chicago. Lets go to the museum. I smiled. Lets. This is a fabulous plan, David said. He smiled. Do you still want some fucking tea? I do want some fucking tea, I said. We ditch everything Friday. No paper, no classes, it will be glorious. Make arrangements, David.

Chapter Twenty-Eight
Juliet had done an incredible job on the proposal for the Valentines Day issue, which was just around the corner. I sat down with her to discuss it and was blown away. Juliet, this is unbelievable, I said, looking at the layout and at the outreach she had already done. Right? she smiled. So, we have 450 admirer tweets. Which is going to be crazy. Well do them all from the Daily Social Twitter feed. I nodded. And then were going to print them in small print on a foldout, she said. So that people can read them in the paper too. The tweets? Yeah. Okay, I said. I smiled. This sounds awesome, Juliet. Seriously. Thank you! she smiled broadly. So, um, when do you hear about the Times? I shrugged. Honestly, I dont think my interview went that well. But, when do you hear? By the end of the week, I smiled. Well see. And when do you get off those stupid crutches? Ugh. Soon, I said. Another week or two. My knee felt fine when I just put my weight on it. But walking still hurt. I cant wait.

My phone buzzed on the table. It was a phone call. Jack. Can you hold on a second? I asked Juliet. Well, Im actuallythats about everything. So, I can just go. Thanks. It looks really, really great. Let me know if you need help with anything. Juliet shuffled her papers together and closed the door to my office behind her. I picked up the phone. Hey. Can you talk? Jack asked. Im at The newspaper, I know. I mean. Can you get away for an hour? Why? I asked cautiously. I justId really like to see you, he said softly. Im sorry ifSaturday freaked you out. I took a sharp breath. No, its...its really fine. Come over? I took a breath. Jack, I have like all of ten minutes. Thats fine. ThatsI really just want to talk to you. I chewed my lip. Alright. Ill be right there. I hadnt been nervous to see him for weeks. But I was nervous when I parked and when I opened the door. He was standing in the living room, absently watching the

TV. Hey, he smiled and nodded and I walked up with him to his room and sat down on the floor with my back to a wall, my feet stretched out before me He gave me a wry grin. I told you I love you. I cringed. Yeah. Youre freaking out. I swallowed. A little bit. Why? he asked. Well, did you mean it? He threw his head back. Jesus. What? Tell me what to say, Jack said. If you want me to say I dont love you, I dont love you. Is that what you want? Do you love me? I asked cautiously. He took a breath in. Youre like my favorite person. I smiled at that. Im not going to propose. Im not going to buy a ring or buy you flowers or force you to date me or issue an ultimatum, he said quickly. It just, I dont know. Im not going to say I dont care about you. But are you in love with me? Could you say something? he asked. Because Im freaking out. Why? I asked.

Im freaking out because I think youre going to walk away because I said something stupid. Im not going to walk away, I said. I shrugged. "I think it made me worry that you might want something I can't give you right now. But, I dont want to walk away. I wont walk away. Okay? He let out a loud, enormous sigh and he paired it with a toothy smile. Okay. I have to go back to the paper, I told him matterof-factly. I hesitated at the door. And, you know, for what its worth, I care about you, too. A lot. Like, in a way that makes me afraid we'll screw something up and stop talking." He smiled. "We won't." I nodded. "I think it's easier than you think." "No, I swear to God. I'll never say anything stupid again in my life." He gave me a goofy grin and I smiled back at him. "Okay. I really have to go." He nodded and kissed me. Still, I couldnt help but feel like something had changed as I walked down the stairs. I didnt know if it was for the better of for the worse. I just knew something was different.

Chapter Twenty-Nine
I came home to see David looking like David. It was an extraordinary change. He was wearing pants he liked and a tight t-shirt and staring at his reflection in the mirror. Hi, I said, almost shocked. I smiled at him. You look good. He shot me a bitchy glare. Oh, shut up. I look totally average. He rearranged his hair, fussing with the haircut in the mirror. Why did you let me do this to my hair? I smiled broadly. Oh, I so did not let you do that. Im done, by the way. What? With Ben, he said flatly. Im done. That girl hes bringing to his semi-formal? He slept with her. He took a breath and failed to maintain the campy air of total assurance. His voice shook as he explained. I mean, I didnt think he would ask me. I mean, lets be real, I never expected him to ask me. I knew he was bringing this girl. But a girl he slept with? And why does he even have to go? He could have made any excuse. Any. But I did everything he asked. I practically stopped talking to you, because he thought you were trying to break us up. Well, that explained so much. Im sorry, I said softly. And I genuinely was sorry to see him so upset. But I was relieved that he had realized he deserved to be treated better. I sat down on the

couch next to him and curled underneath his arm. You can say it. Say what? That you told me so. Im not going to say that to you, I murmured. He exhaled. I hate that I care about him. I smiled at him weakly. Yeah. I know. I absolutely hate it. Will you get drunk with me? Abso-fucking-lutely, I said. I laced my fingers with his. Youll be okay. You wont care forever. I know. Ill be better. He shook his head. I just feel like an idiot. Youre not one, I smiled. I would never live with an idiot. He was already pouring the tequila shots. I raised an eyebrow. This was going to get messy. OH WHOA WERE HALFWAY THERE! OH WHOA LIVIN ON A PRAYER! TAKE MY HAND AND WELL MAKE IT I SWEAR! It was hard to tell who was screaming louder in the mostly deserted bar that Thursday evening, but David and I were making enough noise to clear the place out. When we both staggered out the door, I glanced at David and burst into laughter. Oh my god, I hate him, David said. I absolutely fucking hate him. He is the goddamn worst. Fuck you, Ben

Mitchell. I sighed heavily. I know. Now what? he asked. I shrugged. Call a cab? He nodded. Right. Cab. Right. But I didnt call a cab. I reached into my bag and I called Jack. Drunk and happy, I called him baby. What have you done with Hadley? I got her very, very drunk, I said. Come get me, please. The demon sun crawled through the blinds and declared war on my eyes and my head. I rolled over and crashed into Jacks body. He grunted. I think I died, I croaked. He laughed happily. Nah, I wouldnt let that happen. I am never drinking again. Ever. I am fucking allergic. Okay. I never want to hear last night mentioned, I said. There are massive blanks in my memory. And I do not want them filled. Jack smiled wryly at me. You threw up. Stop. And you said I was adorable. Stop. Cease and desist.

He laughed and reached for a glass of water on the bedside table. He handed it to me. And then David accused me of killing you, but he was wasted, too. I remember none of this. You looked kind of dead. Stop. This was before you also took off your clothes and did the Macarena. I did not do the Macarena naked. That might not actually have happened. He kissed my cheek. You did throw up, though. Bastard. I looked down at the glass of water he had given me and then I looked up into his kind face. I took a sip. Youre too nice to me. No, he said simply. Im not. You are, I said seriously. I was very responsible when I didnt expect anyone to be nice to me. This is your fault. He laughed. I was nowhere near you. I found you in this condition, he said. He rolled his eyes. Clearly, you should not ever go to bars with David. Also, I heard some stories about tequila. That should be against the rules. I made a face, remembering tequila. I really couldnt disagree. I peeled myself out of my bed and pressed my hand to my forehead. Fuck.

Advil. You need Advil, coffee, and a liver transplant. I dont know anybody whod give me their liver. Id tell you that I would, but then youd freak out again, he said softly. I smiled at him. And you slept over. Again. We hadnt talked further about the I love you thing. But it had to be a good sign that he was joking about it. You made me. I dont remember that. Well, he said. You dont remember very much. Do you? Jack, Ill never let go, he mimicked. Oh god. Never let go. I dont believe you, I said, even though I totally believed him. Jack! he mimicked. My voice does not sound like that. I got out of bed. His laughter followed me down the hall and into the bathroom, where I turned on the shower and stepped under the water. I was washing my hair when I heard the door open and close. Jack stepped into the shower behind me. He smiled when he felt the water. You would like it boiling. I kissed him and he gently eased me toward the wall. He pressed his hands against the tiles, close to my

head, while he kissed my lips bitingly. He ducked his head and brushed his lips against my neck, his wet hair tickled my chin and the muscles in his shoulders rippled as he bent and kissed the flat ridge of my breast bone. I took a breath and felt his mouth against my fluttering heart. He dropped to his knees and kissed me lower. My hipbone and my groin and then just a bit lower. His tongue was soft and warm and when I felt it in me, I rose up onto my toes. I heard his hitching breath, the pleasant gurgle of water running down the drain, the quiet roar of the shower. He sat back on his heels, his hands on my hips, his tongue driving me crazy, and I nearly lost my balance. Jesus, Jack. He laughed and the muffled vibration ran through me. I grabbed his wet hair and bit my lip to keep from crying out as he skillfully took me higher and higher. I lifted my arm to my mouth, and bit into my wrist when I came. Oh my god, oh my god, I murmured when he was done. Hey, girl, he said softly. He pulled me down, so we were both sitting in the shower and he washed the shampoo out of my hair as I leaned my forehead against his shoulder. Whered you learn that? Took a seminar, he whispered.

Afterwards, I lay on my bed breathing deeply while he sat on the edge of my bed getting dressed. He was staring at a framed photograph of my father. So, whats your deal with your dad? No deal, really, I said. I looked up at the ceiling. Wasnt around much for there to be a deal. I took a breath in. Hm, he said. Whats your family like? I asked. I only knew the basics. His mom and his older brother. That his father had died when he was a kid and he didnt ever talk about it. He exhaled. Soldiers and do-gooders, the lot of them. He smiled. Really? I asked. Yeah, I dont know where I came from either, he joked. I didnt say that, I said. He dropped the aloof grin. "My grandfather was an Admiral in the Navy. Old-school. He finished buttoning his soft flannel shirt and smiled. My older brother idolized him. Are you still close? He died, he said softly. Five years ago. Heart attack. Im sorry. Its okay. He was old. Jack cleared his throat.

Hed be really proud of Alex. Im sure hed be really proud of you too. Yeah, maybe, he smiled. I didnt really mean it like that. Just that Alex is so much like him. I nodded. It must be hard for you knowing hes in Afghanistan. My mom worries, he said, deflecting the question. But doctors usually stay pretty safe. You told me he was perfect, right? I asked, remembering our first conversation in the car. Yeah, he rubbed his chin. Alex is perfect. He had to grow up kind of quick. He was always trying to get me in line. Hows it been for you? Knowing hes over there? I asked softly, pushing a little bit. It sucks, he said. He exhaled heavily. It sucks like you wouldnt believe. He smiled and picked up a picture of me and my mother. Is this your mom? I nodded. I didnt know why I kept that picture on my dresser. It mostly made me sad about how I felt like I hardly knew her. God, shes beautiful. Mm, I said. Id heard that so many times. Yeah, she is. She looks just like you. Not really. He smiled. Just like you. Your smile is different,

though. How? He shook his head studying it. I dont know when you really smile? Its warmer. Are you close? I shook my head. No. Why not? She never lets her guard down, I said. I shook my head. Not with anyone. Not even with me. He raised an eyebrow. Well, that explains a lot. He set the photograph back down on the dresser and then climbed onto the bed. I let my guard down with you. I looked at him. More than I probably should have. Yeah, after I put up a fight, he kissed my forehead. So, you have no deal with your dad. And your mom doesnt let her guard down. Divorced? I nodded. Remarried? Oh, more times than Id care to count. Both of them. My dads single again, but my moms on her sixth husband. I went home for Christmas. And I went to my house, and there was someone else living there. I laughed. She didnt even tell me she had moved. Or that she had gotten remarried. Seriously? I laughed. Yeah. He let out a low whistle. Did you say sixth

husband? I said sixth husband, I said. Are you close to your mother? He shrugged. I was a handful in junior high and high school. Just an angry kid. Got kicked out of a couple schools. I told you that, right? Yeah. Anyways, the third time it happened she sent me up here to live with Bobby. Which helped. He cocked his head. Some. I didnt know you lived with him. He nodded. Yeah. Senior year. Id have never gotten into Northwestern if he didnt teach here. I looked at the mix of vulnerability and regret on his face. Did you get less angry? He smiled. I got in a few fights freshman year. Really? Thats how I met Xander. He kicked my ass, he said. I rolled my eyes and he laughed at me. Nah, Im not angry anymore. Maybe I never actually was angry. I just think I missed my dad a lot. So you fought people? He nodded. When you lose someone important, not everything makes sense. Being angry was easier than being hurt. Being alone was easier than letting people get too close. I feel like you know something about that. Yeah, I said softly.

Because of your parents? I shrugged. I dont know. I could never really count on them. They were always making promises they could never keep, I breathed. But then I met David. And hes always been there. I bit my lip. Davids a good kid, Jack said decisively. He rolled onto his back. He broke up with Ben. Thats good, he said. He smiled. Thats really good. Yeah, I said through a yawn. Im relieved. I stretched my back God, Im so hung-over. He got up. Where are you going? Gimme a sec. He came back with a Gatorade, kicking the door shut behind him. Oh, you are a good, good man. He smiled, handing it to me. Wait until you hear my demands. I raised an eyebrow. We have our parents' weekend semi-formal, he cleared his throat. In two weeks. Ive never gone before, he confessed. But I kind of want to this year. Alex is on leave and my mom and Bobby will come. Anyways, I thought we could go together. He shrugged. Only if you want.

I was startled, really, by the invitation to meet his family, more than to his formal. Yeah, I said. Definitely. Really? Yeah, I said. Of course. He nodded. Good. He grinned. I was kind of worried youd say no. Its like so against the rules its not even funny. I smiled. Well. I have to say, Jack Diamond, youve demonstrated a deplorable lack of respect for all of my rules. He chuckled. Never met a rule I couldnt break. Mm-hmm, I said. At least you deliver Gatorade. He got back under the covers and kissed my damp hair. Im disappointed my shower performance was less impressive than sugar water delivery, Jack said. After we had breakfast on Sunday, we scarcely had a moment that wasnt spent together. Maybe it was the hangover, but I couldnt get enough of him. So, this is the library, huh? Jack said, as we approached the building so I could work on a paper for my Arabic class. You realize I am a library virgin, right? I opened the door. You need to be quiet. Thank you for that valuable bit of information, Hadley Arrington. I will treasure it all my life.

I rolled my eyes. Did you actually bring any work to do? No, you said you were going to the library. And that means the only place I could possibly have sex with anyone is in the library. He said this last sentence as we stepped into the eerily quiet library. And half-a-dozen heads whipped around to look at us. He smiled and waved. I gripped his forearm tightly. Its like a cave. He announced loudly. He glanced around. Actually, a tomb. Shut up, I whispered. He rolled his eyes at me. What now? he asked in an exaggerated whisper. He followed me to the second floor, to one of the tables by the windows overlooking the lake. He smiled as I sat down. You do this a lot, dont you? Go to the library? Yes. Yeah, I go to the library a lot, Jack. He laughed and sat down across from me. He kept his backpack on, clearly having no intention of doing anything productive, as I started up my computer and got out my notebook and Arabic textbook. Youre the real deal, huh? Jack asked. I looked up. What do you mean? I mean, with the Arabic stuff. You really just want

to be a war correspondent? I nodded. Yeah. I guess so. Why? he asked. I shrugged. Its just what I want to do. He smiled. Not good enough. What? Youre the most deliberate person I know. Why war journalism? he asked. I mean, what made you want to do that? Did you see a movie? Read a book? Have a friend? I rubbed my chin and thought back to the moment I first realized it. I think it started with Nancy Drew. He smiled. She was a detective, but its kind of similar work. You ask a lot of questions and figure out whos lying and whos telling the truth and all that jazz, I said. He smiled. Okay. So, this is Nancy Drew: Mysteries of the Middle East. I laughed. No, I said. Then, you know, I read another book. He nodded. Um, about the holocaust. Number the Stars. I rubbed my chin. And it just seemed like the older I got the more I realized how many terrible things had happened that nobody had bothered to notice until the destruction was basically complete. I paused. Its so easy to focus on our own lives, and its so terrible, andmy parents

focused on their own lives. It didnt make them any happier. My dad made a lot of money, but my mom just kept looking for someone else for herself. And I thought, you know, if I was doing this kind of work, writing about what was going on so that people couldnt ignore it, then that would be enough. I shrugged. It would be enough to know I was doing good work, important work. And right now, the place where people need to know whats going on is mostly the Middle East. I flushed. Long, earnest speech. Not my style. He smiled. What? I like that, he said. You like what? I like that your reasons for being a journalist are totally nave and idealistic, He grinned. I rolled my eyes. I didnt say it was profound. No, it is kind of. He smiled. And its good to know youre not a complete cynic. I focused on not blushing. So, maybe youll come around on the dating thing. I wont, I said. He shrugged. Im serious, I said, slightly annoyed. He chuckled. Dont get mad. Im not mad. But, I am serious that I just want to

get the job at the Times and focus on that. I dont want there to be any confusion. He nodded. No, I know. I flipped the page of my book, feeling him watching me. You mind if I go? I shook my head. No. Not if you want. He paused, seeming to reconsider for a moment. Sorry, justclaustrophobic, you know? I nodded, although I didnt know at all. And I watched him go. I watched the other girls watch him go, too. He really was handsome. And he was popular. And for a second, I wondered if he had just realized that I wasnt that popular or that pretty and that he really didnt need to be sitting in the library with me.

Chapter Thirty
As wed planned, David and I wandered throughout the Chicago Institute of Art. This is boring, I said, much to his chagrin. Id been going along with Davids flurry of plans, all of which I knew were, in part, to help him get over Ben, who just wouldnt stop calling him. David hadnt called him back, and I trusted that he wouldnt. But, whenever he said he needed to get offcampus, I went with him. Seriously, I said. Im bored now. I looked at the painting David was gazing at, trying to determine exactly what was keeping him transfixed. How did a San Francisco heiress end up less cultured than a South Dakota farm boy? You were not a farm boy and Im not an heiress. And I dont live in San Francisco anymore. Remember? Whatever. Look at the artwork. Stop acting like a Neanderthal. I yawned. Im not acting like a Neanderthal. Im acting like I need a nap, I insisted. Which I do, because this is boring. He snorted. Dont worry. Well go buy your prom dress next. It is not a prom, I said furiously. I cant believe youre going to a parents weekend formal, he said. Oh, shut up.

Are you going to get a corsage? Look, I just need to find a dress. And shoes, I said. You know who you should call? No. Your fabulous mother. He stopped in front of the Claude Monet wheatstacks and studied them. She makes everything more complicated. That may be true, he said. But she is incredibly stylish. I chewed my lip. The logical thing to do would be to ask her. And it might be the easier thing, too. I wouldnt have to go shopping. But it just seemed like I was asking for help. We went to lunch afterwards. I need a rebound, David said. Yes, I agreed. What about Justin? I raised my eyebrows. Much as I love you, darling, I am not letting you use Justin as your rebound. He grumbled. Well, thats a shame. Dont even think about it. Why not? Hes a freshman. Id be nice to him. I raised my eyebrows.

Okay, fine, he said. I wont ask you to help. Do not pursue him if you dont like him. I dont know if I like him yet, Hadley, David said. I made a face. What happened to Nigels friend? Sam? David shrugged. No. What do you mean no? Just no, David said. Everything was no. Okay then, I said sarcastically, That makes a lot of sense. So, is Jack, like, your boyfriend? he asked, changing the subject. Not technically, I said. Youre still friends with benefits? I guess. He rolled his eyes. Well, as long as he knows that no matter what kind of benefits he gets, Im still the best friend, thats fine. You have nothing to worry about. So, are you going to call your mother or am I going to have to deal with the horror of shopping with you in addition to the horror of breaking up with my secret exboyfriend? I might call my mother. He smiled. I think that could be a really good idea.

My phone buzzed at the table. It was an unknown number, so I ignored the call. When it buzzed again, David gave me a look. Answer it, if youre so popular. Hello? I said, with a little more attitude than I normally would have. Hadley Arrington? Yeah, speaking. This is Dale Broussards from The New York Times. I coughed on air. What? How are you? Imgreat, I said idiotically, trying not to choke. So, listen, were going to offer you the job. Well need you to start right after graduation and youll probably be based in Syria from day one. If that still sounds good, we need to know fairly quickly, because wed like to start getting you up to speed while you wrap up schoolwork and everything. No. Fucking. Way. After that, I didnt register much of anything that he said. All I heard was the offer. My dream job. This intangible thing that I had worked and worked and worked for. It had happened. So, if youll let us know in the next three days if you can accept th

I accept, I said automatically. He laughed. Alright, then. When I hung up, I looked at the huge smile on Davids face and laughed. You got it? I nodded. Yeah. He said Id probably be in Syria. I mean, things can change, but He chuckled. Girl, congrats. We have to celebrate. I laughed again. Pure glee. I really couldnt believe it. Outside the restaurant, I reached for my phone and texted my mother. I could only hope shed be happy for me and that she wouldnt say anything to my dad. And then I called Jack. He didnt pick up the call and his voicemail had been full since the day Id met him. So I texted him. Got the job! A few of us are going to The Pub to celebrate. Wanna come? I stared at the screen for a freakishly long period of time, before I rolled my eyes and set it away. Tell Justin, and Ill get everyone else you care about to come. I raised my eyebrows at David. You are not rebounding with Justin. I seriously think hes cute. I gave him a death glare and he just laughed.

When we pulled up to the bar, I could already tell it was going to be busy. Justin and the rest of the newspaper crew had beaten us there. A toast to Hadley, David called, gathering everyone around and handing out beers. I clinked my glass against Davids and met his eyes. I saw nothing but affection. I swallowed thickly and smiled, surprised that such a simple gesture would make me so emotional. David was my best friend. And hed be so far away this time next year. Congratulations, Justin said, giving me a warm hug. Thank you, I said. Hey, Justin, David said. Its been too long. Justin lifted his head and looked at him. David, whats up? he had a wide smile on his face. I know Hadley promised you Id introduce you to some people back in January, he said, with a winning smile. Youll have to let me do that now. I rolled my eyes at David and stepped away to check my phone. Jack still hadnt written me back. Annoying. When I looked up, Ben Mitchell was staggering towards David at the bar. Fuck. Where had he come from?

David had his back to Ben, so I stepped over. Maybe we should go somewhere else, I said softly. Justin laughed at me. Like where? David turned his head and his face darkened. I knew Ben had a dangerous side when he drank, but I didnt expect to see a flash of fear across Davids face. Yeah, lets go, he murmured. Where? Why? Justin asked. I dont want him to cause a scene, David mumbled. It was too late for that, though. Ben was making his way over and I left Davids side to intercept him. Hadley, he slurred. Wheres Diamond? I realized I was the one, insufficient buffer between David and Ben, and took a step in between them. Ben was a jerk, but even I didnt think hed be stupid enough to hit a girl in public. Look, I dont think David wants to talk right now, I said. Hey, Ben said, raising his voice and calling loudly over my shoulder. David met his eyes. You two freaks, this isnt a gay bar. Fuck off, Ben, I said. He laughed and looked down at me. Seriously, you need a girl to defend you? Fuck off, Ben, I repeated. He laughed. Faggots, he spat in Davids general

direction. Hey, Justin said forcefully, stepping forward. David caught his wrist. Dont bother, I heard David tell him. Its not worth getting arrested over. He pulled Justin by the hand and they left the bar. When I was sure they were gone, I turned my attention back to Ben. I seethed where I stood. You do realize, Mitchell, that you are the only fucking person in this whole bar who has a problem with them? Ben just looked at me glassy-eyed. He left me. Well, what did you expect? I asked incredulously. You cant treat someone like that and expect them to stick around for it. I love him, Ben slurred, ridiculously. Really? So, you made him change everything about himself and you beat him up and you decided your reputation was more important than his feelings? What the fuck is wrong with you that you think that constitutes love? Nobody could know, he said. I dont care what you think your reasons are. You have no right to come over here and call him a faggot. I shook my head. You need serious help. I walked away from him, ready to leave by myself since Jack obviously wasnt coming in time.

Chapter Thirty-One
David and Justin hit it off right away. Three days later, they were seemingly inseparable. Hey, chica, David called when I walked in. They were making lobster risotto, which was ridiculous, but knowing David, it would be amazing. I was glad to see them both. Jack had started to freak me out a little bit. He finally texted me Congrats, but he hadnt wanted to see me for the past two days, and I started wondering if he was regretting asking me to his formal this weekend. It didnt help that he chose to go missing the week that my father started calling me religiously. My mother had told him about the job. So obviously he wanted to talk about it. He largely wanted to persuade me from going to Syria. There was no chance of that working, but my dad was persistent and he seemed to think I owed him not one but twenty-two conversations on that matter. Id mostly kept my phone shut off, trying to avoid his unwanted calls, and every time I checked it, my heart plunged a little bit deeper seeing that Jack hadnt bothered to call me or text me. You look tired. I am tired, I said. Sit down and have some bruschetta. I smiled at David.

It will solve almost all of your problems, David promised. How many times did your father call today? Seven. Ah, Im seeing a downwards trend there, David said. Tomorrow, he will only call six times. At this rate, by next week, you wont hear from him at all. I rolled my eyes at David. That was very like my fatherbrief periods of intense attempts at discussion, followed by long interludes of complete silence. How many voicemails? Three. Are we listening or deleting? We are deleting, I said, going to my voicemail box and deleting them without giving them a chance. Give me that, David said, holding out his hand. I handed him the phone. He put it in the refrigerator. What? Go over there. You dont need this thing torturing you. So youre going to chill it? David shrugged. Seems like a good strategy to me. He looked over at Justin. Give her some scallions to chop or something. Justin smiled shyly at me as I stood next to him. I cant believe hes letting you cook with him. He only lets me do this when Im in the midst of a crisis.

Actually, I dont know if I trust her with the scallions, Justin, David decided. She can wash the tomatoes. Justin made a face and handed me the scallions anyways. Good call, I told him. He nodded. Youre still my mentor. Not in the kitchen, David groused. I retired to the couch when Id finished with the scallions and sat watching reruns of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. How long does risotto take? Im starved, I complained. Can I order pizza? Sure, if you dont value your life, David snapped. Do I have time to take a shower? I asked. Oh, you have time to take a half-hour bath if you want. This better be amazing. I hummed in the shower, fantasizing about pizza, and about my bed. And, if I was being really honest, I fantasized about Jack calling me back and apologizing for putting me on edge. He had invited me to his formal. He had invited me to meet his family. And then hed disappeared. It made no sense. I felt like one of those stupid girls in a bad movie who had missed an obvious sign, but I

couldnt figure out what the sign was. I came out of the shower and ran a towel through my hair and walked into my room to get dressed. I turned on the lights and screeched when I saw a man sitting on my bed. Calm down, Jack said. Its just Jack, what the fuck? He shrugged. Your roommates cooking dinner for his boyfriend, I didnt want to intrude. Where the hell have you been all week? I asked, catching my breath. And why wouldnt you turn on the lights? He smiled mischievously. Well, I thought it would be sort of funny to scare you, actually. Well, I need to get dressed, I said. Also, your dads in the living room, Jack added. Which is What? I whirled to him. How is that not the first thing you tell me? He held up his hands. Im sorry. I assumed you knew. Shit. This is not good. I sighed. Would you give me a second? I need to get dressed. I pulled on jeans and a sweater and walked out into the living room. What the hell was my father doing here? Dad, whats going on? I asked, walking out to

the kitchen. He was sitting on the couch, studying his Blackberry, and David was smiling bitchily at him while Justin was unnecessarily cleaning the counter, looking very nervous. Hadley, he said, getting to his feet. Your mother has been worried. My father always assigns emotions to some third party whenever he does something that requires an explanation. Your mother was worried. The doctor was hysterical. The speed limit was being completely melodramatic about safety. Well, theres nothing to worry about. Whats this whole business with Syria? And why havent you returned our phone calls? This whole business with Syria is that Im moving there because I have a job there. Its pretty cutand-dry, actually. I smiled. And I did return your phone call. And I think I told you what I just said. And it was weird, because I got like so many voicemails asking the same question Id already answered. Well, why dont we talk about that? he said. Darling, let me buy you a nice dinner. You look Dont call me darling, I snapped. Id heard him call way too many girlfriends darling. I wasnt sure what had become of most of them, but I was his daughter. I, at least, should be distinguished from all of the other women

in his life. And we have already talked about it. We disagree. David chuckled, grabbed Justins wrist and pulled him out of our living room and into his bedroom. Look, Hadley, he said in his Im a serious international businessman voice. He looked at me appealingly. Im not going to tell you what to do with your life. But, I would really like to talk to you. He hesitated. And why doesnt your boyfriendwhats your name? Im Jack, Jack volunteered. Please, shut up, I said to him pleadingly. I just Your boyfriend Jack can come, too. He is not my boyfriend. I can come, Jack said boldly. He smiled. Hads, why dont you get dressed? I turned and tried to burn Jack with my eyes. He just smirked, refusing to take the hint. I stormed into my room. I could lock the door. I considered that for about five minutes while I got dressed. The plan didnt get much further than locking the door. And if my father flew all the way here from London to see me, then he probably wouldnt object to taking the door off of its hinges. David had been through enough dysfunction for one semester, I thought nobly, as I resigned myself to dinner. Syria is not up for discussion, I said when I emerged from my room.

You look pretty, Jack said sweetly. Dont talk to me. Jack laughed. Charming, isnt she? my dad said to Jack. Completely, Jack replied. What? Are you two idiots friends now? I asked sourly. Come on. Lets get this over with. They both laughed. My dad had taken a chauffeured Lincoln car, which may have seemed sleek and luxurious when there was just one person in the back seat. With three of us, squished together, it was decidedly inelegant. We arrived at the restaurant, in rumpled clothes and awkward silence. A table for three was arranged. Jack leaned in and whispered into my ear. Swanky place. Shut up, I hissed. Jack laughed, obviously pleased with my discomfort. As soon as the waitress handed us our menus and disappeared, I met my fathers icy blue eyes. You better be ordering something strong. He laughed. Relax, Hadley. No. Im not going to relax, although I really do appreciate the suggestion. But I would like some wine. Please. He chuckled and Jack smiled. Im glad you think the disaster that is called my

life is funny, I said, more to Jack than to my father. My father had always regarded the disaster that is called my life as a moderately amusing hobby that he took up again every few months. He called over the waitress and ordered wine. And then, obnoxiously, he ordered filet mignon for everyone at the table. Jacks a vegetarian, I said. My father looked at Jack like he had rabies. I am not a vegetarian, Jack said calmly. My father exhaled as the sommelier poured the wine. He took a sip. Excellent, thank you. I downed my glass in one gulp. Youre really not supposed to drink it like that. Its really unappealing, you know, showing up unannounced and telling other people how to drink their wine and live their lives, I said. Giving Jack a hard time for being a vegan. I am not a vegan. Well, you should be a vegan, I said harshly. You should be something. I mean, whats the point, Jack? Youre just so bored by absolutely everything in your existence that you dont want to do anything? Lets not get personal. You had a bad day, Jack said Kids, my dad said. Hadley. Lets talk about this Syria nonsense.

There is no nonsense. I got a job. A very good job. Practically my dream job, I said. Its not safe. Lots of things arent safe, I snapped. Driving a car isnt safe. Going outside in a thunderstorm isnt safe. Crossing the street isnt safe. But sometimes you have to go across the goddamn street. So you ignore the fact that someone could hit you. And you carry on. Those are not fair comparisons. Theres no reason to go to Syria, my dad said. You can be a reporter from practically anywhere in the world. I mean, look, Hadley, its a dying field. And there is no good reason that you should die for it in a place like Syria. Its what I want to do. Its not smart, my dad said. I want you to reconsider. Im not going to, I said. I glanced at Jack, who was watching my father closely. He probably was freaking out. When I told him my family was kind of messed up, he probably never imagined hed have to deal with the mess. I couldnt tell what the emotion in his eyes was, though. It seemed like understanding, although I couldnt tell if the person he understood was my father or me. Do you know what happened to Lara Logan in Egypt? Jack asked softly. I turned to look at him. I knew exactly what had

happened to Lara Logan in Egypt. Shed been sexually assaulted by a pack of rioting men in Tahir Square. Most people who followed the news knew that. But thats not what stunned me. Its that Jack said it. At dinner with my father, which I was making no effort to be civil at. Excuse me? I said to Jack, who barely met my eyes. Exactly, my father said. Thank you, James. Neither of us corrected my dad. I stared at Jack in shocked betrayal. He looked down at his food and looked back up to find me still staring. I meanHadley, stop looking at me like that. No. He took a deep breath. She was surrounded by cameramen. Shes someone who travels with security. I mean, shes on TV . The Times cant protect you over there. I dont think you have any idea what youre signing up for, Jack continued, trying to explain why hed just taken my fathers side. Exactly, my father repeated. I reached blindly for my water. I dont think its any of your business. What? he asked. You getting hurt? I met his eyes for a long time before he looked away. Seriously? He shook his head.

After graduation? Why does it matter if Im in Syria in six months? Youre not going to see me after that. I spat it out exclusively for the purposes of hurting him. And I saw it work. I saw him recoil. He let out a short, shallow laugh. Right. Right. No strings. I got it. He held his hands out helplessly. This is all just a game. This is all about the rules and You have no right, I hissed. You have no right to interrupt something you know nothing about and He nodded. You know what? Were not supposed to have dinner together. He pushed out his chair. That was a good rule. I forgot about that one. Im going to go. He was walking out the door before I could register that he might be mad at me. Or hurt. Or something. I watched his shoulders. His bowed head. I wondered if he thought it was funny, or if he was serious. He didnt take anything seriously. I couldnt imagine why hed be such an alarmist about Egypt. Hadley, he was only trying to help, my dad offered. He was trying to help you, I snapped. Thats not help. He exhaled. I dont condone this. And I wont support it. Im not asking you to, I said. Please. You really think Id count on you for anything at this point? After that, there wasnt much left to say. He paid

for dinner and he dropped me back at my apartment. He went straight to the airport. And even though Id been doing it for years, I couldnt totally suppress the twinge of guilt in my stomach, which had a lot more to do with scaring away Jack than it had to do with disappointing my father.

Chapter Thirty-Two
Needless to say, Jack and I didnt speak for days after that. And as much as I missed him, I was angrier than I was sorry. Whenever I reached for my phone to apologize, I remembered how hed blindsided me and I set it back down. And Jack didnt make an effort either. Riley presided over class more quietly than he usually did. Which is to say that he didnt call anyone a fucking useless imbecile. We listened to him discuss hostage situations. We learned about when keeping quiet was more important than speaking up. Sometimes, I felt like his eyes were hovering on me a second longer than they were hovering on anyone else in the class. I wonder how much Jack talked to him. I wonder if he knew that wed fought. At the end of class, he cleared his throat. Well be assigning you to your career profile of a deceased journalist on Monday. If youre interested in someone in particular, let me know by tomorrow and well see if you can be assigned to that person Valentines Day dawned bitterly cold, and stupid, like every day in February and like every Valentines Day before it. Oh my god! David screamed. I followed the high-pitched screech into the living room where David stood in his bunny slippers, wielding a

heart-shaped crepe pan. Someone had sent him roses. Guess what day is today? The day the world vomited up pink and PDA? I asked. Havent heard from Jack in Three Days Day And Am Supposed to Be Meeting his Family on Friday Day? Dont be such a Grinch. Thats exclusive to Christmas. Well, dont be a Vrinch. I dont have the stomach for romance, I said. David looked at me. Justin sent you flowers? David nodded. I would guess so. He reached for the card. I mean, its not like He stopped suddenly when he read the note. What? He exhaled. Shit. What? I grabbed the card from him. I miss you. Please call me. Love, Ben. You are not getting involved with him again. I know, Hadley. Im not stupid, David snapped. I bit my lip. There was a rap on the door. I am so not getting that, David said. I swung open the door and saw Ben standing in the hallway. Oh, fuck no, I said, trying to close the door again.

What? David asked alarmed. He walked to the door to see Ben. He took a step back. Ben? David, Im sorry, he whispered. Just, I know I was horrible. I know, but I think its because Im in love with you. You need to leave, I said to him. David caught my arms and pulled me kicking back to my room. Ben, come in. Its fine. I just need to corral her. Yo u cannot date him. He is a homophobic psychopath. Hadley. David Michael McPhee. Trust me. Its not you Im worried about. Im not going to let him hurt me again, David said in an even, low voice. I promise. I know better. You have to trust me. I took a deep breath. Fine. But if he fucks with your head again, Im going to shoot him. I really will. So, make sure hes aware. David smiled at me. Hadley, you know I can handle this. I know, I said. I just wish you didnt have to. Itll be fine. Go to class. I left them quietly talking in Davids room. I swallowed thickly, hesitating at the door. I didnt want to

have to rely on trust to know David was safe. I wanted to just know. And I wanted Ben to just leave. I waited at the doorway for the longest time, wondering what Id lose if I just emailed my professors and said that I was sick, and stayed home to make sure David was okay. But I couldnt do thatnot to David, not to the people counting on me. So I left, stomach in knots, wishing I hadnt been so mean to Jack at dinner, wishing I had his arms to collapse into. After class, I went to the library. I texted David to make sure everything was okay. How did things with Ben go? He wrote back immediately. Theyre fine. He left. Someone cleared his throat and I glanced up. Jack Diamond was holding a single white rose. He was wearing a red plaid shirt, which was loose on him, and his hair was pushed back off of his forehead. He looked a little bashful, like he couldnt believe he was doing this either. He held it out to me with a wry little grin on his face. Are you serious? I asked. Sh He said. Youre supposed to be quiet in the library. We werent alone in the library. Two girls watched with interest across the table while I accepted the

flower at an arms length. I thought, he said very softly. Since we had started breaking the rules. I looked at him. That maybe I should apologize, he whispered. He sat down next to me and leaned over my notebook and spoke in my ear. You had a shit day and I made it worse. I shouldnt have jumped into that conversation with your dad either. I suck. Im sorry. I smiled in spite of myself. Its okay, I said softly. I was a bitch at dinner. And, I thought, if we were really going to break the rules he leaned forward and kissed my cheek. You maybe would come to the aquarium with me tonight? I know we said no dinners. But I think we can look at fish together. Even if it is Valentines Day. I dont know if it was the warmth of his lips on my skin, or the way he smelled, or the fact that even thought I hated Valentines Day, I loved white roses. Or maybe it was because just because I wanted. Yes, I whispered. Its a date. Well, now youre getting awfully dramatic, he said, leaning back, satisfied. A date? Were just going to look at some fish. And he made me laugh. For the thousandth time since Id met him, he made me laugh. I looked at him. Are we still on for Friday?

He smiled. Yes. If you want to be. I nodded. I do. Late that afternoon, we drove towards the aquarium, listening to the National. I watched the flat, dusky world from my window. Have you been before? he asked. I shook my head. No. He smiled. I think youll like it. Jack obviously had been. He knew every single tank, every hidden exhibition. He took me through the crowded ones first. He caught my hand in a darkened room before a shark tank. Alone, we kissed in front of the cool blue waters. Before the dolphins, Jack stood behind me. His body was warm, his hand rested on my hip and he kissed my jaw. But it was before the jellyfish, where nobody was watching, that I stopped to stare. The ancient giants pulsed like beating hearts. They say they might live forever, Jack whispered in my ear. Some of them are hundreds of thousands of years old. I leaned heavily against him. Can you imagine the things theyve lived through? I thought of crashing meteorites and quaking seas. And then thisbeing taken from the open water and placed in the middle of an ocean

of people. Do you think they know theyre being watched? He smiled and nipped my ear. I think everyone knows when theyre being watched. He laughed at me when I jumped back from the eels. He stood close to the tank and watched carefully. Do you come here a lot? Not a lot. Ive been before. I used to go to the aquarium in Connecticut. He glanced at me. When I was a kid. He paused. With my dad. He traveled a lot for work. He shrugged. After he died, it was the only place that felt okay. Everywhere else seemed awful. He rubbed my shoulders. I think it was the only place I let myself feel sad. I didnt remember him at school or the house we moved to after he died. But, I remember him at aquariums. He smiled. Anyways, I always felt kind of weird at school because of that. Like everyone was actually there, in the classroom or gym class, thinking about being in the classroom or gym class and I wasnt there at all. I was pretending I was at the aquarium. I used to go to the library and Id read books, I confessed. Pretend I was someone else for a while. After a while, I got sick of the fiction. Because I knew it would never happen. So I read the newspapers. And I knew there was life after middle school. Outside of where I grew up. He nodded. Yeah. He smiled. Always felt like I

had more in common with a bunch of fish than with people when I was a kid. He chuckled. Im a disaster, though. That doesnt make you a disaster. He wasnt wearing plaid today. I stepped forward until we were inches apart. Our foreheads touched. Im a little bit of a disaster, Hadley. Then, youre my favorite disaster, Jack. He brushed his lips against mine and lifted me off the ground. And on the Valentines Day that I would always remember as the day that we broke all the rules, I let a boy literally sweep me off my feet. Your place? he asked. I laughed and nodded. We drove home quickly. He walked me from the car, where he parked upstairs. I could get used to this, he confessed. I paused and leaned against him. I didnt say anything and he chuckled to himself and didnt bring it up as we walked upstairs. We might be walking into a gay fiesta, just FYI, I said as we reached the hallway. Thats fine, he said. As long as they dont expect us to participate. You wouldnt do that for me? I asked, in mock indignation. I heard a scream and a shout. I pulled away from his kiss, at the same time as he lunged toward my door. Did you hear that? Jack asked, grabbing my arm.

He pushed me away from the door. Do you know who is in there? David! That sounded like David! Get back, Hadley! Jack barked and I moved away from the door as he pushed it open. The banging was coming from Davids room. Jack pushed past me towards his bedroom and I followed close behind. David, Jack yelled. David, are you alright? He shoved the door open and moved ahead of me. I wanted to run to him, but I didnt. I pressed my hands to my mouth uselessly and stared. David was bloodied and bruised, on his knees, barely struggling against Ben. Bens hands were locked around Davids neck. David choked out a plea, or a cry for help, his hands on Bens trying to tear them away. His eyes were wet and he was desperate for air. The way he cried out sounded horrible, deeply painful, and Ben kicked David harshly in the ribs, without releasing his stranglehold on him. Jack moved before I could scream. Jack moved so quickly that Ben was grasping his bloodied nose, with his back against the wall in the time it took me to reach David. And David spluttered, and choked and fell from his knees to his stomach, and took these ragged, shuddering breaths that sounded like nothing but pain.

His broken figure lay on the floor, underneath my shaking, useless hands. David, I whispered through tears. David, come on. I turned him over. His eyes were open and he was breathing shallowly. Ben struggled against Jack and Jack hit him again and he slumped, dejectedly against the wall. Get the fuck off of me, Ben shouted. Hads? David whispered. Im here, baby, I said. Were here. Hadley, he whispered hoarsely. If you touch him again I will fucking bury you, Mitchell, Jack roared. Do you understand me? He slammed Bens body against the wall so hard that the picture frames rattled. Get the fuck out. As soon as Jack released him, Ben fled. I tried to help David up, but he curled away from me. Go away, he said, as the door slammed. Go away, please. Im calling the police, Jack said. Hes in shock. No, David whimpered. He needs ice, Jack said, not listening to David and grabbing his phone. No, David said softly. Stop. HadleyIm fine. I heard Jack on his cell phone walking down to the

kitchen. Im calling to report a crime, Jack said deliberately into the phone. I watched him and my lungs and chest filled with something, air and something else. I think it was gratitude. 2333 McBride Street. Apartment 2D. Jacks voice didnt waver as David started to cry. He handed me a bag of ice and paced before us, a look of capable concern on his face. I put a hand on Davids back and he pushed me away. An assault. Yes, maamhis name is Ben Mitchell. Hes a student at Northwestern. The athletic department should have his address and photograph on file. The victims name is David McPhee. Hadley, please, David said in a broken voice. He needs medical attention. No, hes alert, but hes injured, Jack said calmly, ignoring David. Thank you. We will. When he hung up the phone, Jack walked over and picked David up. That was something that I wished I could do, but couldnt. He put him on the couch, steadied him. Are you drunk? Jack asked him seriously. David shook his head. No. Did he hit you in the head? David nodded. Jack was the strong one, the capable one. He pulled Davids hands away from his face so he could see his eyes. Youre okay, he told David softly when the sirens grew louder.

David flinched. And then he slumped against me and I held his body against mine and pressed my lips to his forehead. The little comfort I offered made him whimper. The officers came before long. Their footsteps made him flinch. When they sat down, all I could see was the boy from South Dakota, who heard the word fag in church and tried to hide all of the truest parts of his soul. He knew if they found out who he was, theyd kill him. And then, like everyone promised, it had actually gotten better. But then it got worse. Really, really awful. What happened? one of them asked Jack. Jack looked at David. Hell tell you, he said calmly, confidently. My ex-boyfriend assaulted me, David said simply. Saying it aloud changed him. He spoke more forcefully about things that I hadnt known about. He spoke about harassing phone calls and controlling behavior. Was this the first time it happened? one of the officer asked. David shook his head. No, he whispered. I thought he was going to kill me this time. I couldnt breathe. The police officer made a clucking noise with his tongue against the top of his mouth. Okay. Whats his name? Ben Mitchell, David said softly. The police wrote down his name and pulled Jack

aside, who had held himself together to ask him more questions. I was supposed to see Justin, David told me. Let me call him. I dont want him to see me like this. I laced my fingers through his. Hed want to be here. But, he should at least know, dont you think? He nodded. Yeah. Okay. I stepped away, far enough so that he couldnt hear me calling Justin, but close enough for me to keep an eye on him while the paramedics checked his eyes and the marks on his neck. Justin picked up the phone and his brief panic settled into deliberate calm when I told him they were taking David to the hospital. Hell be okay, Justin said. Let me know when hes ready for visitors and Ill be the first one there. Can he talk? I looked at David, who was still basically incoherent. No. He definitely wouldnt want to talk to Justin right now. Not now. But he will tomorrow. He wanted you to know that he wasnt blowing you off. Tell him not to worry for a second about that, Justin said. Call me as soon as he wants to see me, okay? Okay. Yeah. I will, I nodded, wishing I could be so calm. David is fine, I reminded myself. Hes hurt. But hes fine.

When Jack came back into the room, he took one look at me and walked over. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders, a simple gesture, and I leaned against him, and he held me. On the day after Valentines Day, Jack snuck popcorn, Jack Daniels, Justin Shelter, and me into Davids small hospital room by flirting shamelessly with a nurse. Hadleys boyfriend could charm his way into Fort Knox, Justin told David. He sat down on Davids bed. He settled down next to David, and after a moment, I saw him lean forward and kiss Davids forehead and whisper: Im going to murder him. David laughed hollowly. Im tired of all the death threats. Im sorry, Justin said. Im going to wage a very effective letter-writing campaign. We turned on Youve Got Mail. Jack and I watched part of the movie, and then decided to give Justin and David their privacy, walking out into the waiting room to sit on cheap plastic chairs and thumb through old magazines I thumbed through a wedding issue for a reality star. God, this magazine is ancient, I said. These people are divorced now. Its newer than youd think, Jack said, checking the cover. Yeah. Four months old.

Seriously? Four months? They were married for four months? He smiled. You know, you can probably go, I offered. I want to see what happens to the bookstore, Jack insisted. I think Meg Ryan is going to sue Tom Hanks or else kill him. Its a romantic comedy, not Law & Order. Jack raised his eyebrows. Well, they better have paused it. Because I bet anything that Meg Ryan ends up killing Tom Hanks. Down with capitalism and all that. Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Fox Books. Or maybe itll turn out to be some kind of Madoff thing. A book Ponzi scheme? Thats not possible. Jack smiled at me. No, but it could definitely be the plot of the movie. He looked over his shoulder at Justins hospital room. Do you think I should go ask them to pause it? I dont think you want to disturb them, I said. Theyre probably making out. Well, I should definitely disturb them. Justin shouldnt take advantage of David. Hes highly medicated and I think I also got him drunk. Plus, I want to see the end of the movie. I rolled my eyes and he kissed me suddenly. What was that for? I like you, he said, grinning.

I grinned. I bit my thumbnail, tried not to blush, and focused on the hideous bridesmaids dresses. I like you too. I didnt say it, because then I would have exploded with embarrassment. But Im pretty sure he knew that anyways. Thank you forknowing what to do, I said. Oh, come on, surely you went to the seminar on 911 in Kindergarten, he said. Even I didnt skip that class. You know what I mean. He leaned his head against mine. You still dont want to date me, huh? I was quiet. I just want to be like this. Okay. He smiled. We can be like this. What do you want to call it? I rolled my eyes. Life. Were lifing? Or, you know, living. He cocked his head like he was thinking about it. Right. Lets pretend I never said that. I nodded. Deal. Justin brought David home from the hospital late that night. Hey, I said, when Justin opened the door. You know I can walk, right? David asked dryly. Justin had his arm tight around Davids shoulders, like he could hardly support his own legs. David grinned at him

briefly. Get over here, David said to me. He wrapped me in a tight hug. Im so sorry, I said. Hey. Its not your fault. Hes a bastard, David continued. And I should have listened to you. Oh, David, I dont care No, I should have listened to you. Hes going to press charges, Justin added. Good, I said fiercely. David smiled weakly. Are you okay? Of course, David said. He smiled bravely. I knew Jack was good to have around. Im glad youre back together. We never were together, I said. But were back on. Whatever that means. He rolled his eyes. Okay, Hadley. What? You like him, David said. Shut up.

Chapter Thirty-Three
My mother sent me a beautiful dress and a pair of shoes that would only make sense to wear to a ball for Jacks formal. The dress was light blue, with a white silk tie at the waist. It fell just above my knee. Im nervous, I told Jack when I got into his car. He blinked. Is there anything I need to know? I asked. He blinked again. I waved my hand in front of his face. Hello? Earth to Jack. You look really, really pretty, he said. Thank you, I said. What do I need to know? He laughed. Mom is Julie, brother is Alex. He cocked his head. Rileys coming. You can call him Professor? He smiled. Sure. He looked me over again. What? You look really goddamn pretty, he said. He smiled and drove to the frat house. I told them you were my girlfriend, by the way. I didnt think youd want me explaining the details to my mother and Riley. We walked from the car to the fraternity house. I leaned against him slightly in the cold and he laughed as we reached the door. Youre not going to recognize it. He was right. I didnt recognize it.

The floors sparkled, the music was playing at a pleasant volume, and people were drinking from real glasses. We rented the glasses, Jack said, looking at the expression on my face. Ah, I said. Riley looked out of place, in a tweed jacket, leaning against a wall and chatting with a pretty darkhaired woman who smiled just like Jack. I swallowed nervously. Say hi, get a glass of wine, repeat. All night, Jack whispered as we approached them. Its like a game. You must be Hadley, his mother said, turning. She offered a hand. Im Julie Diamond. It is so nice to meet you. And this is Alex, Jack said. Alex shook my hand. So, youre the girl my brother flew us out here to meet. I dont know about that. Alex chuckled knowingly. Alex, shut up, Jack said. Do you know Robert Riley? his mother asked. I do, actually, I said and smiled. Im in his combat journalism class. Riley nodded and gave me a friendly smile. Ill have to pretend I dont know you on Monday.

I grinned. Im used to that. Were going to get wine, Jack said. I promised her there would be wine. I followed him. Am I doing that badly? I asked. He laughed. No. I just can tell theyre kind of salivating that I seem to have a girlfriend. He smiled. I dont want them to get the idea that Im some kind of responsible and mature adult. I nodded. Ah. He grabbed two glasses. Thanks for doing this. My moms been dying to come to one andanyways, I appreciate it. I smiled. Yeah. Does Riley know youre going to Syria? he asked. I nodded. He took a sip of his wine. He put me in touch with the editor actually, I said. Jack stopped lifting the glass to his lips. What? I nodded. Yeah. Christ, Jack said. He looked over at Riley. It clearly bothered him. He took a long sip of the wine and whistled. Wow. What? I asked. Nothing. He cleared his throat. I need to find Xander. Figure out where were supposed to sit.

I watched him go, confused, and sipped my wine slowly, wondering how long he'd be. I'd finished half my glass before I gave up waiting and went back over to his brother and mother, who he'd neglected in a corner. Wheres Jack? He went to go find Xander, I think, I said. Oh, she nodded and smiled. "So, you're a doctor, right?" I asked Alex. "I am." I nodded. "How did you like medical school?" He smiled. "Better than the Naval Academy." He chuckled. "No, I liked it." Jack wandered back, with a goofy smile. "Hey. Sorry." He looked drunk. I smiled awkwardly. "Where's Riley?" "Getting a drink." Jack nodded. "So, how'd you two meet?" Alex asked. "It's a really good story, actual Jack started. We met at a tailgate," I interrupted, blushing preemptively. "Right," Jack said. Alex smiled at Jack and then at me. You had no idea what you were getting into, huh? "None," Jack said. "Oh. Were you talking to her?

Trust me. She's crazier than she looks." Alex smiled. "Okay, then." Jack started to say something else. Xander, however, rapped his fork against a glass to make an announcement. "Everyone, thanks for coming. I've been told dinner is ready so if you'd make your way to your tables, that would be great." "We're table thirteen," Jack said. "Which is appropriate. Terrible luck. "I'll tell Bobby," Alex said. We found our table and I whispered in Jack's ear. "You okay?" "Yeah. I'm great," he said, pulling out my chair. "Why wouldn't I be?" Nothing, I said. So, Hadley, how do you feel about Jack not having a job? Alex asked. Lay off, Jack said. Alex laughed. Oh, come on. Ive been in Afghanistan. Im allowed to give you a hard time. Julie cleared her throat and peered at me. Youre one of Bobs students? Yes, I am. So, youre interested in journalism? I nodded. "Jack's father was a journalist." I found that shocking. I looked at Jack. "I didn't

know that." "You didn't tell her?" his mother asked. Jack was watching his mother. He smiled at her regretfully. He rubbed his chin and said softly. "C'mon, Mom." Julie looked at me and then at Jack. "What paper did he write for?" I asked. "New York Times," Alex answered. "That's where Im working next year," I said. I looked at Jack, genuinely shocked. Jack cleared his throat. "Anyways, they just did a Valentine's Day issue for the university paper." "I saw that," Riley said. Jack grinned. "Yeah. Hadley almost had a heart attack over it. What did you think?" "Gimmicky." I smiled. I would've agreed, if I hadn't been thinking about Jack's father. I was mystified. How could he not mention that to a girl obsessed with working at The New York Times? "What are you interested in covering?" Alex asked me. He looked quite serious. Jack exhaled heavily. "Come on, Alex. Leave her alone. "I'm going to be working with their Middle Eastern conflict team," I said. I reached for my wine and swirled it. "They said I would probably be based in Syria at first.

"Are you kidding?" Alex asked aggressively. Jack, are you serious? Are you talking to me or Jack?" I asked. I cleared my throat. "Am I missing something here? Im not kidding about anything. Jack studied his water glass like it was the worlds most fascinating object. Julie watched me, and I glanced at her briefly before looking away. Her eyes were the same color as Jack's and contained the same edge of loss Jacks sometimes held. Syria? Julie asked, her voice straining. What do your parents think about that? Jack made a strangled noise in the back of his throat. "Mom. Let her be. "It's fine," I said. "They're not thrilled, but they get it." I shrugged. "I speak Arabic. Its what I want to do. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?" Alex asked. I cocked my head. "Aren't you a trauma surgeon in Afghanistan?" I asked. "It's different. I don't have an angle." "Alex, for Christ's sake," Jack said. "Would you please drop it?" I shrugged. I think its important to show whats happening. Journalism is about telling the truth, and people here can help. They cant help if they dont know about whats going on. But if they know, they can help.

I met Professor Rileys eyes and he nodded subtly at me, but didnt chime in. "If you want to help, you should enlist, Alex said. Dont tell my girlfriend to enlist, Jack said angrily. I wasn't sure who to argue with, Jack or Alex. Why not? Shed be safer in the army as shed be in a Jeep with a bunch of cameramen, Alex said. Well, its not your concern, Jack snapped. If you care about her, its my concern, Alex responded. Riley can tell you how dangerous it is. Sure, Riley said calmly. But she knows. You dont really know, Alex said to me. You have no idea. How could you know? Lay off, Jack snapped. "It doesn't affect you." Alex turned and looked at Jack. It does affect me. The last time someone you loved got killed taking pictures in the Middle East, I was the one picking up what was left of you. In case you forgot, you didn't take it too well." Jack pushed back his chair and got to his feet. Yeah? Well, fuck you, Alex. I moved to get to my feet, as several of the other families whipped their heads around to see, but Professor Riley beat me to it, grabbing Jack by the upper arm. He tugged him once, gently. "Jack, come on," Riley said, gruffly. "Let's go for a walk." He shoved him gently towards the door and Jack

turned, fists clenched, shoulders up by his elbows. But he walked with Riley. Alex exhaled in his seat. "Alex, you shouldn't antagonize him," Julie said. "I wasn't." Julie sighed heavily. "You I need the restroom, Alex said brusquely, stalking off in the opposite direction, leaving me alone with his mother. I sipped my water, just so I'd have something to do with my hands which were shaking. "I'm sorry," I said, when there was nothing left but ice in my glass and I had to confront the fact that I had somehow ruined the first family dinner they'd had in a while. And that something terrible had happened to Jacks father. I felt things shifting into place. She smiled and shook her head. "They've always been like this." She smiled. "They love each other, and they don't know how to say so, so they fight." I nodded. Im sorry thought. I "It's not your fault," she added. I looked out the window. Jack had walked outside with Riley. He was far enough away from the windows to not realize I could see him. But I saw him. He sat down on the steps, resting his elbows on his knees. The idiot wasnt wearing a coat over his blazer, and he'd turned his head to look up at the stars. I watched him shiverfrom the cold or maybe the

argument. Riley stood a few feet behind him, talking quietly. Jack nodded occasionally and smiled sadly once. His shoulders were slumped, awkwardly broken. He needed a coat. He had to have a coat if he was going to sit out there. I looked at Julie. Would you excuse me? I said. I got up from the table and walked upstairs to Jacks room. His sketchbook was thrown open on his desk, the one he was always doodling in, but he never showed me. He had been drawn me, in the passengers seat of his car. One leg up on the dashboard, my head turned away from him. My face shaded lightly with pencil. I put my fingertips on the page and felt tears brim behind my eyes. I swallowed hard and took his coat from the back of the desk chair, and hurried down the stairs with it. I walked outside. I'd never heard Riley's voice sound so gentle. Alex is dealing with a lot right now. Hes not the same kid who left for war. Nobody is Hey, I said loudly so that they would know I was there. I stood uncomfortably, wavering, not wanting to intervene, and not wanting to go. I, um, thought you might want a coat. Jack looked at me and didnt say anything. I walked to the steps and draped it over his shoulders. He pulled it closer. Thanks. I sat down next to him.

"You'll ruin your dress," he warned. "I don't care." Riley smiled. "You'll be okay?" He nodded at the door, like he was thinking of going in. She doesn't bite, Jack said. He blew on his hands and turned his head, watching Riley go. I didn't say anything. He pulled a flask from his front pocket and took a sip. Should we talk? I asked. "About?" "That." I nodded inside. "Alex. Your Dad." It's a long story," he said. "I'm good at long stories." He shook his head. I know." He smiled and looked over at me. He took another sip from the flask and offered it to me. "But I'm not." I took a small sip. It burned my throat. I handed it back to him. He cleared his throat. My dad was a war correspondent. He bit his lip. He loved it." He shrugged. The shiver that went down my spine felt like ice. He took a sharp breath. "And then he died." "I'm sorry," I whispered. "Yeah," he nodded. "He went to Afghanistan. Right after 9/11, when we just had gone to war. My mom begged him not to. He told her hed be fine." He looked up at the

stars again. "They took him hostage. The Taliban." He shrugged. He took a sip from his flask. We never got the body back. He breathed shortly and exhaled. They cut him into pieces and put it on terrorist YouTube or whatever the fuck they call it. "Oh, Jack," I breathed. I couldn't imagine. I couldn't imagine any of it, but I didn't have to imagine Jack's pain, because there wasn't any way for him to hide it. I could almost feel the tension of it beneath his skin. My breath swirled in white clouds in front of my mouth. Everything made sense. Jesus, I squeezed my eyes shut. God, Jack. Why didn't you say something?" I didnt know how to. And you werent going to Syria until a week ago. For a long time you were going to be a journalist. I mean, honestly, by the time I figured out you were applying for a job in Syria, I was so far in over my head with you he took a breath and his voice trailed off. This is just like me. What? To fall in love with someone who couldn't be worse for me." He shook his head. "I mean, Jesus Christ. You've got a lot of rules. And I've got just about none. But if I had to come up with one it would be: don't sleep with the pretty girl headed for Syria in six months. And if you do sleep with her, be damned sure you don't fall in love

with her. But here we are." He smiled humorlessly. "You're not in love with me," I said. "We're not even dating." He laughed bitterly. I am, though. I really am. I'm in love with you. He smiled again and shook his head. But, Im fucked up." He got to his feet. Jack "Look, don't worry about it." He put his hands into the pockets of his jacket. You don't have to say anything, Hadley. I get it. You're not into it. You said that from the beginning and you don't owe me anything. If you want to take off, take off." He rubbed the back of his neck and turned back towards the house. I stood up. "You want me to go? You want me to leave the party you invited me to?" He bit his lip. "No, I don't want you to go." He shook his head. "But you probably should." I met his eyes. "C'mon," I said softly. "Talk to me. I'm not going to die in Syria." "My dad used to say that." He nodded and looked down at his feet and then up at me. He shrugged. "Listen, I'm going to go inside. You didn't sign up for this." "Okay," I said. "That's okay. We'll figure it out." "Figure what out?" he demanded. "Im telling you I cant do this anymore, Hadley. I met his eyes. "You can't do this because I'm going to Syria?" I said. I shook my head. "I just don't understand

"Jesus, Hadley, haven't you listened to anything I said?" "Well, everything was fine. You knew that I "I said Im love with you," he yelled. He threw his head back and I took a step back and looked at him. He looked at me again and exhaled. "I'm in love with you," he repeated quietly. Do you get that? I bit my lip. I had nothing to say. "I'm sorry," he said. He shook his head. "There are about a dozen girls who I had to say I was sorry to because I didn't love them. So I get what it's like for you right now. Believe me. I know. It's terrible. You feel guilty and awkward and like you failed to communicate something to me." He nodded. "But most of all you feel like you want to get the hell away as fast as possible. And I know what that feels like and I'll make this easy for you. Take off. Go home. Its fine. I broke the rules and I got burned and thats my fault. "You don't know how I feel," I said. I didnt feel awkward. I felt sick. "I love you, Hadley." "Would you stop saying that?" I snapped. He smiled sadly. See? He shook his head. I wanted to cry. I was almost sure that Id start crying. Since when? My voice sounded strangled. He laughed. He lifted the flask to his lips. His face

twisted when he swallowed. He stared at me. I dont know. Maybe since I met you, he bit his lip. Listen. Go. Go. Its fine. He smiled. You dont want this and Ill Ill deal with it. But, you should go. Itll be easier for you and itll be easier for me, too. "Well, do you want me to come say goodbye? To Riley or your...family?" He gave me a cocky smile. Id seen it a million times. On his Facebook page, when he was talking to people he didnt really know, when someone told a story he didnt think was particularly funny and he wanted to be polite. This empty, distant, arrogant smile like hed never even worried about anything before in his life. Nah. Don't worry about it. Ill clean up. Not your mess anyways. I expected him to turn back and look at me as he walked back towards the house. I expected him to laugh and say he was fucking with me, he was drunk, or that he just needed some space, or that hed call me tomorrow or that hed see me around. Or something. But the door closed and he didnt come back. I stood staring at that door for a long time. I didnt have a ride back to my apartment. And I didnt call for one. The air was cold enough that I couldnt think about the icy pain in my chest. By the time I got home I was shaking from the cold. I felt so tired, like Id walked eight miles instead of half of

one. I shuddered in the doorway, flipping on the lights, taking off my heels. Youre early, David said. He turned to look at me. How was it? I smiled, took the kettle down from the cabinet, and filled it with water. Then I burst into tears. Hadley! What the hell happened? David asked. He got up from the couch next to Justin. I smiled as widely as I could manage. Nothing, I insisted, pressing my hand to my mouth, squeezing my eyes shut. Hadley. Please, David, I said, as he crossed the room to me. What did he do? Nothing. He didnt do anything, I said. I took a deep breath and managed to keep the sobs down until Id entangled myself from his wrist and gotten to the bathroom to turn on the shower.

Chapter Thirty-Four
David refused to let me leave the next morning. He insisted on an explanation. And when Id finally spat out the whole sorry story, I still hadnt touched my pancakes. I shook my head. I should have known." "What?" "That this would end badly," I said. David looked at me in concern. Is it really a problem that he loves you?" I shrugged. "He seems to think so." "Why?" "Because he broke up with me." "But you aren't even dating." "He told me to leave." I took a breath. "He told me he loved me and that I had to go. And I did." "What did you say?" I shrugged. "Nothing. I left." He was quiet. "Do you love him?" I cocked my head at David. I exhaled. "I don't believe in that stuff." "In love?" "Not the way he meant it." I put my hair into a ponytail and gathered up my things. "I have to go." "Hadley," David called after me. David, I have to go. The newspaper has to get put out, I said. I probably had done it before, used the newspaper as an excuse to hide from people. But Id never

been so aware of it. Every comma I cut, every sentence I reworded, I knew exactly what I was doing. He told me he loved me and I wanted to say it back. But, I was afraid. So, on a Saturday morning, feeling hung-over and half-empty, I copyedited the newspaper. Youre breaking your own heart , a tiny voice told me, when I looked up for my work long enough to think about it. Another voice, one I knew better and trusted more, spoke back you have to break your own heart. You cant compromise. I had no idea how I was going to face Professor Riley in class on Monday. I wondered what Jack had said when he returned to dinner. Had he told them I was crazy or heartless or just feeling sick? Had he just told them the truth? I sat in the second-to-last row, close to the back of the room. I scrawled my name in nervous, looping letters in the corner of my notebook. I tried not to think about the way Jack smiled on Friday night, like he'd seen this coming and he hadn't been able to stop it and for some reason that was funny. Like finding out something that had seemed too good to be true just wasn't true.

Well, of course. I had scrawled my name over half the page by the time Riley walked in, and I didn't look up when he grumbled hello to the class. He had moved to ethical constraints on journalism when it came to respecting other people's religious beliefs, and I finally looked up when he referenced a statistic on a slide. He wasn't looking at me. Obviously. He didn't look at me all class. I bit my lip and took notes and when he was finished talking, I did my best to pack up my things in record speed. "Now before you go, we'll be distributing your assigned journalist for your profile." He looked around. "Oh, and Hadley?" Shit. "Can I talk to you for a second after class?" I wondered if Jack had told him wed broken up. Or whatever that had been on Friday. A fight? No, it was more than a fight. It was the end of something. I chewed my thumbnail while the classroom emptied. "Are you going to come down here?" Riley asked with a grin. I got up and walked down the rows to where he stood by his desk. I wasn't going to talk first. I couldn't think of a

single thing to say. He stared at me piercingly. "So, Friday was fun," I said. So much for the not talking first. "I mean, it was nice seeing you." Riley smiled. "I didn't know about you and Jack." "Oh," I said. "You're good for him," he said, cocking his head. I opened my mouth and then closed it. I cocked my head and cleared my throat. "I'm not his girlfriend or anything." He laughed. "Yeah, he said that. Whatever you are, though, I think it's good." I nodded. He told me to go away. I guess even investigative journalists missed the obvious sometimes. "Anyways, I'd assigned you Jack's father, Scott Diamond." He looked at me. "I'd made the decision before I knew you were...how did you put it? Not Jack's girlfriend or anything?" He smiled at me. Jesus. Christ. I smiled back. "Right." "Anyways, if you're not comfortable with the assignment because of that, you can choose someone else. But I thought you'd do a good job with it." He smiled. "He'd have liked you. He was idealistic, too." He nodded. "It's the only time I'd thought to assign him to anyone and I'd like it if you did it. But I understand if you'd prefer not to." "I'll do it," I said quietly. I cocked my head. I had a

feeling Jack would hate it if he knew. But he wouldn't know. The sad thing was that I didnt think hed ever find out. Because I didnt think hed ever talk to me again. He nodded. "Good. Glad to hear it. You feeling better?" So that's what Jack had gone with. Sick. "I feel great. Thanks." He nodded. "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you should know Jack's a fighter." I looked at him. "It's how he shows he cares about people." He grinned. "If he's fighting with you, you know." I wished that we were fighting. But we weren't. He was ignoring me. And I was letting him. "Thanks, but I'm really not his girlfriend." "Like I said, whatever you are to him, it's good." I nodded once, unwilling to shatter that perception, because it seemed to make him happy. "Well, ah, thanks." He laughed. "For a research project and unsolicited relationship advice for someone you swear you're not dating? Anytime." I managed to laugh and told him I had to get to a meeting. I walked quickly from his classroom to the newspaper office. My phone hadn't been quiet. Not exactly. My mother had texted about dinner plans for graduation weekend, my father had sent me an email about

a suicide bombing in Syria with the subject line FYI, and David had sent me a gif of a dancing rabbit. But Jack hadn't sent me anything. I put the phone in a drawer so I couldn't think about it and turned my attention to writing a brief on employment statistics for recent graduates. It was dry material and uncomplicatedthe report released by the Alumni Affairs Office came with charts and detailed analyses. On a normal day, I would've delegated it to a junior writer, but I wanted something to do. I sighed when I finished it and forwarded it to Andrew for copyedits. I glanced out the window, pulled my phone from the drawer and tapped out a response to my mother. Graduation wasn't far offtwo months nowjust eight weeks. That seemed surreal. The newspaper office was quiet. I peered out my door. If I wanted to Google Scott Diamond, I could. No one would know. But I felt brittle and I thought that reading about it might break me. I packed up my things and went home. I started crying in the shower. Something about the hot water on my skin. The way he had told me to leave. The way I couldnt stop remembering. The first sob felt like it was ripping through me, and when I realized I wasnt

going to be able to stop them, I just let myself cry. I sat down on the cold, tile floor and tried to breathe through the pouring water. I never expected to feel this rejected. I scrubbed my hair viciously, like it could stop the flood of emotion. I was crying because he said he loved me and that I had to leave and I knew that if the first thing was true, so was the second one. I got out of the shower, wrapped myself in one towel, and put my hair up in another one. I wandered out into the living room to David, who was lying flat on the floor listening to some kind of new age spa music. What are you doing? I demanded. Realigning my spine," he said serenely. I sat down next to him in my towel and looked at the ceiling. I shifted. Huh. Sh..." he said. "You're killing my zen." "How?" "Bad energy." He snapped open one eye. "Lie down. If anyone needs their spine realigned, it's you." "What does that even mean?" I demanded. "It means shut up and lie down." So I did. How do you know when its aligning? When you feel the tension leave your body, David said knowingly.

What does that feel like? David turned his head to me and glared. Start with silence. Tension leaving will eventually follow. Sure. Close your eyes. Shut up. I breathed and stared at the ceiling and closed my eyes. My damp shoulder brushed Davids and I waited for the tension to leave my body. My breathing slowed. Maybe it was the tension leaving my body. Maybe it was being hit with a wave of exhaustion. But something happened. There, he said. What are you talking about? My spine is still misaligned, I informed him. Well, you havent been working hard enough at the silence, he said. He stood up. Want some tea? I sat up. Well, now its definitely not going to align, he informed me. I chuckled. How you doing, girlfriend? David asked gently. Spectacular. I'm writing a paper on Jacks father for the journalism class taught by his godfather who doesn't believe that I'm not his girlfriend." "Sounds complicated. He handed me a warm mug of tea. Our hands brushed. "Your mom emailed me about graduation."

"Oh yeah," I smiled. "Justin said his parents wanted to come. Especially since mine arent." "Nice." "Yeah? You don't think that'll be weird? "I mean, my parents are coming. That will be weird. I'll tell my mom to add them to our reservations. If you want. He nodded. "Mm. Yeah. If she doesn't mind?" "She won't."

Chapter Thirty-Five
I didn't work up the nerve to Google Scott Diamond until midnight on Saturday. That's when most people worked up the nerve to say what they wanted. Midnight. Weekend. Have a few drinks. Say something stupid. Something that you mean. I couldn't look down on that. If I had a little more nerve, I'd have called Jack and asked him how dare he tell me to go away just when I had gotten used to having him around, just as he started being the first person I told everything to. I chewed my fingernails looking at the search results. Scott Diamond's Son Recites Father's Last Words I clicked on the link with trembling fingers, biting my lip. It wasn't Jack, but Alex. The video was a few years old, taken when Alex was at West Point. I closed my eyes. I did not hit play. I stared at the frozen image for a long time. Finally, I shut the screen of my computer and pushed it away. I got up and walked away from it. I could either research Scott Diamond or I could tell Riley I couldn't do it. And I had a feeling if I couldn't handle this, it wouldn't say much for my prospects in Syria. I knew I'd have to be tougher. I turned my head, looking back at the computer,

and gnawed on my lip. I walked to it and opened the screen and began to work. Scott James Diamond was born in 1961 in Chicago, IL. He attended the University of Illinois, got a graduate degree in journalism from NYU, and took a mailroom job with the Chicago Tribune. He met Julie Rowland in 1983, married her in 1985. She gave birth to his son, Alexander, in 1986, and his son Jack in 1992. He spent three years in Bosnia, and was hospitalized when shrapnel in his leg became infected. He was the co-recipient of the Pulitzer Prize with Robert Riley in 1994. He spent time in the First Gulf War, co-authored a book, and was named the Chief of the Moroccan News Bureau. He returned to the Metropolitan desk at The New York Times in 1999. After the terrorist attacks on September 11 th, he and Riley were asked to cover the war in Afghanistan. He agreed. In January of 2002, he went to a caf to meet with a source. Riley had a stomach bug from drinking the water so Scott Diamond went alone. He didn't come back. Not that afternoon. Not that night. The last time most people saw him would be in the photographs they released. He looked levelly into a

camera, with serious but unpanicked eyes, holding a newspaper with the day's date. The last time a very small handful of people would see him would be in the VHS tape sent to the Kabul hotel room where Riley had holed up, refusing to leave. They slit his throat, cut off his head, and the camera went black. I took notes on all of this. That was what they taught you. The way to make sense of things was to take detailed notes and to construct a narrative, identifying causes and effects, the repercussions and the warnings. They didn't kill Scott Diamond. They slaughtered him. Like an animal. I twitched. I took more notes. It made less sense. The more I learned, the less sense it made. Not what had happened. I knew what had happened. I understand the timeline. I recognized the reasons the men who murdered Jack's father gave for their awful crime. But I couldn't get to a place in my head where I could understand it. I couldnt understand the violence or the terror or the brutality or the basic tragedy of a kid's father dying like that. I knew exactly what had occurred and I also knew it was too horrible to ever fully understand. I closed my laptop and my notes and walked away from them. I could tell you what happened to Scott Diamond. But it would never be the full story. It would

never be the story of what happened to Jack Diamonds dad.

Chapter Thirty-Six
The first nice day came at the end of March. The first real day of spring. When you knew winter had just about ended. It would be cold againmaybe once or twice but when the temperature soared to the high sixties, you knew it would never again be as cold as it had been. I had barely noticed March until that warm day. When it became clear that Jack wasn't going to come back to me, that Jack didn't want to be friends, I buried myself in work like I used to. There was something relaxing about it, about checking every box, mitigating some barely-there anxiety. I hated the Scott Diamond assignment, selfishly, but I did it. I did it slowly, writing down the details, highlighting the key elements in play from the moment of his abduction to his ultimate death. I could only take so much at one time. And I knew that was because of Jack, and I knew that it was a good thing to learn how to do. To write about something awful happening to a person who meant more to you than the average person did. I never met Scott Diamond but I knew his son. It was, if nothing else, an exercise in empathy. I was up earlythe first nice dayand I didn't see anyone walking across campus to the newspaper office. I liked the quiet in the office, too. Starting a pot of bitterly

strong coffee, I began to think about the positions we needed to fill next year. I thought Juliet could be a good Editor-in-Chief. But she said she didn't know if she wanted the job. She had smiled and shrugged when I suggested it. "I don't know, Hadley. It looks like a ton of work." When I'd gotten a few things into shape, I turned to my homework. I had started working in my newspaper office around the time when I started being worried that I'd run into Jack on campus. I put on my headphones to listen to Arabic conversations spoken at a quick clip, while answering a series of challenging questions about their contextual meaning. It was the sort of work that took a lot of focus so much that you couldn't think of anything but the noise and what it all meant. Andrew popped his head and waved, letting me know he was here. I smiled, waved back, and kept working. When I looked up again, it was dark. I pulled off my headphones and sighed. I flipped my phone over to see I'd missed four calls while it was on silent. That was weird. I unlocked the phone and scrolled to my missed calls. Jack. Jack.

Jack. Jack. The phone, still on silent, lit up with his name again. I swallowed. I picked up the phone. "Come on, come on, pick up," he muttered frantically. "Hey," I said. They were having a party. Or something. It sounded like a thousand people were chattering behind him. "Hadley?" Jack? What do you want? I asked quietly. Is everything okay? Come to the house. I don't think that's a good idea," I said. Come on, Hads, he begged. I gotta see you. "Hey, have you had dinner Andrew trailed off when he saw I was on the phone. "Hadley?" Jack said. "I have to go. "Why? Just come here," he said. I can't. Please. Come on. I've got to talk to you. I wavered. Andrew was watching me. Jack, I've got to go. I hung up and put the phone away. Everything okay? Andrew asked. "Great."

"Was that Jack?" I cast a wary eye at him. I didn't like the idea of people knowing anything about it. I nodded, though. "You're better off," Andrew said. He smiled. "Everyone thought you'd lost your mind. You know?" I looked at him. "No, I didn't know." "Come on?" he laughed. "Jack Diamond?" He smiled. "Number one cause of breakups at Northwestern?" "I've never heard that," I said. And I hadn't. If Jack had a history of sleeping around, he'd kept it quiet. And so had his friends. Though it made sense: handsome and tall and popular and that goddamn smile. "You want to order dinner?" "Sure," I said. "Chinese?" I nodded and he left my office. The phone rang again. I silenced it with a flick of my finger and bowed my head. I tried to focus on fixing an awkward split infinitive in the third sentence of Scott Fleischers article on vending machine robberies. But, of course, all I could see was Jacks face. And in the buzzing silence of the room, all I could hear was the drunken slur to his words. I gotta see you. When the phone lit up with his name again, I simply turned it off. I couldnt do anymore work, but I waited an appropriate period of time, before I slipped my stuff into my bag and went to find Andrew.

"Do you mind if I bail on Chinese?" I asked. "I've been here all day. Can't focus anymore." "Yeah." He grinned. "No worries. I'll see you tomorrow, right?" "Right." I turned my phone back on. Ten missed calls, three new voicemails. It had only been half an hour. I stopped in the parking lot, staring at my phone, wondering if I should call him, wondering if I should just go over there and see him. When my phone rang again, I answered it. Hadley, he said tightly. Pick up, god fucking Its Hadley. Oh. I heard him take a sharp breath. Look, is there any way, any way at all, that you could come over here, Hadley? His voice was ragged with emotion. It sounded like he was crying. Why? I asked. I just... I really want to see you, he whispered. His voice broke. I needI need you. Youre drunk and you think Im available, I told him. Maybe if I was a bitch, he could just hate me. That would be easier for both of us. Its not fun anymore. Remember? I dont want to have fun, he said fiercely. I want to see you. I bit my lip. It was impossible to get him back

now. It was impossible to tell him I was fun when he'd already told me that I hurt him. It was impossible to drive home and sleep, because he still sounded hurt. "Okay," I said. "Okay, I'll come." He exhaled. "Thank you." I hung up the phone and drove to the house. There was loud music playing downstairs and red plastic cups lining the railing of the porch. It was the prettiest girls and the coolest boys. The closer I got, the more inadequate I felt. In my jeans and Hanes t-shirt, with my backpack firmly on my shoulders, I stepped through the open door, looking around for him. Maybe upstairs. I didn't want to venture into the kitchen, or through the throng of people spilling out of the living room and into a narrow hallway. So I hoped he'd be in his room. I walked up the stairs, squeezing past a pin-thin Asian girl with a flower behind one ear and a redheaded sophomore boy making out aggressively by the bannister. Jack sat against the wall in his room, watching the news on mute. Handsome Jack, with an open bottle of whiskey, and a self-loathing smile on his face. Hi, he whispered like a little kid, when I opened the door and stood there. Whats wrong? I asked. I closed the door. He didnt say anything. The bass beat of the speakers

shuddered through the room. The painfully neat room, with so many books in it. And with Jack sitting against a wall, drunk, glassy-eyed, impossibly sad. He laughed. "I'd blame it on you if I could." He shook his head. Im all fucked up again. You're not fucked up." Are we still friends? he asked. I swallowed. "I don't know. Would you like to be?" Jack shrugged. "I don't know. I thought I'd be over it by now. But I'm not." "Over what? Me?" He laughed. "Yeah, you." He lifted the bottle to his lip. "I miss you. It's weird." "It's not weird," I said. "I miss you, too." He smiled. "Stupid, right? We go to the same school and you live down the road." He leaned back. "I'm sorry I told you I loved you. I shouldn't have said anything." I looked at him. "I'm sorry I can't be who you want." I exhaled. "You're exactly who I want." "Well, what you want then," I said. "I can't be the girl who follows you. I cant not go to Syria. And you can't just be whatever it was that you were to me." I bit my lip. He closed his eyes and slumped further down. "Maybe I could be.

I walked over to him and sat down next to him against the wall. I tried to think of something comforting to say. "David says my spine is misaligned." He laughed. "He says that's the root of all of my problems." "Don't be nice to me," Jack said softly. I was quiet. "You said you wanted to talk." "I lied. I wanted to see you," he said. He exhaled. "I don't want you to be nice to me." "Well, I'm not going to be mean to you. Especially not when you're looking like that." He gave me a look. "Being mean to you right now would be like kicking a puppy." "Because I'm adorable," he said. "Because you're drunk and sad." He rolled his eyes. "That's just my personality." "Drunk and sad?" He laughed and I did, too, and it was funny and horribly painful and deeply aching all at once. Like the laughter echoed and because of that you knew you were hollow. He reached for my waist and kissed me. No matter how drunk he was, no matter how sober and stupid I was, he could still kiss me like it was what he was born to do. I was left breathless and senseless, and whispering: We cannot do this. Jack, we cannot, cannot

do this. I cant stop thinking about you. Im still going to Syria. I cant give that up. I just cant. Will you tell me something? Yeah." "What was with the rules? Seriously?" he asked. I shrugged. "I don't know. My way of not turning into my mother." I bit my lip. "She just never got it together after my dad left. She kept looking to fall in love with someone. And she was always at their whims, you know? I don't want that. And maybe the rules were overkill. But, the one that I absolutely can't break is the one that you want me to, right? I mean, I'm going to Syria in May. You can't deal with that. But I can't not go." He was quiet. It wasn't fair for me to have this conversation with him when he was drunk. But I asked. I wanted to know. "I mean, if we tried again and if we gave up all the other rules and I still went to Syria. Do you think that could ever work?" He bit his lip. He shook his head. "No." I closed my eyes. Well, at least I knew now. I bit my lip. The rejection still stung. "It's not that dangerous. The chances of me dying..."

"It's not rational," he said. "I still wake up in the middle of the night panicking about my dad." He looked at me. "And he's been dead for a decade. Nothing worse can happen to him. Nothing. And I still can't sleep sometimes thinking he's somehow still suffering." He cleared his throat. "And Alex is in Afghanistan and..." He took a breath. "No, I can't. And I can't ask you to give it up. I know you'd say no if I did. But I wouldn't want you to say yes." He took a long sip from his bottle. He met my eyes. He closed them. "This sucks," he said. He was wasted. "Yeah," I agreed. He dropped his head to my shoulder, and I felt him nod off to sleep. I shook him gently, helped him get to his feet, and stumble into his bed. I moved the whiskey bottle to the other side of the room and filled a glass of water and put it next to his bed. I looked down at him, breathing quietly, his thicklashed eyes closed. I smoothed his hair back off of his forehead. I pressed a light kissed to the top of his head, turned off the lights, and walked away.

Chapter Thirty-Seven
I didn't see Jack again until May. He texted me occasionally late at night when I was sure he had been drinking and I ignored him until they stopped. And I fought the urge to text him during the day, when I was sober and clear-headed. I spent time with David and Justin. They were good together. They worked. They made sense. When I saw Jack in May, he was at the library. He was leaned over a book, his fingers curled around a Starbucks cup. He whispered to a girl with golden hair and smiled occasionally. So, someone else had gotten him to the library. I decided not to say hi, not wanting to worry if he'd told her about me or if maybe she was just a girl from an English class or if maybe she wasn't anybody at all. Maybe they'd just met. I got away without him seeing me. I couldn't decide whether or not that was a victory though, by the time he was out of view. "...and now she's sending emails at 5 AM about Oxford commas. I mean, she's got to get a grip..." I closed the door to our apartment and dropped my bag on the floor. "Whos talking about Oxford commas?" Justin fell silent. "She does look kind of cracked out, David

commented. I glared at him ferociously. David looked right back at me. "Justin thinks you might be spiraling." "Spiraling?" "Into despair," he added. "I didn't say that," Justin said quickly. "Is this about the email?" "It's like five pages long. Single-spaced. About grammar, David said. You read it? I asked. That was only for the newspaper staff. "Justin forwarded it to me." "Okay. You're totally unreliable," Justin said, looking at David. I told you not to bring up the email. "I just don't understand why everyone is confused about Oxford commas," I took a sip of my Red Bull. "They're sloppy and it's May and people should know these things by now. The Northwestern Daily News does not use Oxford Commas. Is that really that complicated? No. Its not complicated at all. "You shouldn't be sending emails at five in the morning. Especially not about commas. It's disturbed," David said. "I didn't say you were spiraling," Justin added. "Just to be clear." "Well, I think you're spiraling, David chimed in.

"And disturbed," I said. "Got it." "We're going to the bar to have a beer and celebrate basically being done with college." "You and Justin?" "No, Justin is a freshman. His GPA still matters. He has things to learn. You and me. It's pub crawl." I have things to do." "Like what?" David asked. Writing an email about apostrophes? "Just things." "You've got nothing to do. C'mon. I won't make you brush your hair," he said. "Andrew will be there." "So?" "These are people you've gone to school with for four years. We dont have that much time left to spend with them, Hadley." Fine, I said. I went to my room and slipped into a sundress, cowboy boots, and a soft blue cardigan. I sat with David and had a glass of wine. It was nice, I realized. It was nice to relax. I hadn't had a drink in a long time. I sipped slowly and the wine made me sleepy more than anything. I was yawning while we walked to the bar. "I would rather take a nap," I said, looking at the line. He grabbed my wrist. "One beer. Then we go. You

go. Whatever." We were both too sober for the place. People seemed pretty emotional actually. We only had a few weeks left, and the bittersweet realization we were nearing the end had infiltrated the bar. I had known I'd see Jack when we'd walked over. I missed him. I'd missed him badly at first, but now it was more like a dull ache. Bearable. Completely bearable. Yet, I wanted it to go away and worried it never would. When I saw him, the ache was sharper. But it also felt good. It felt like standing on the doorstep of my grandmother's house when I was a kid. He was with the same girl. The one Id seen in the library. I bit my lip, watching him. His hair was a bit longer, he had a few day's stubble, and he'd rolled up the sleeves of a flannel shirt that I hadn't seen before. He caught me looking. Smiled. Looked back at her. Jesus. That was the worst. I looked over my shoulder at them twice. He was introducing her to people. Some of them she knew. She shoved Nate's shoulder like they were old friends, laughing. "Go say hi." "No way." "Well, then stop staring," David ordered. "You

want a beer?" I shook my head. "Ginger ale." "That's so boring." I smiled. "I don't want to get drunk and go over there and say something stupid." David looked over. "She looks like she's twelve." "She does not," I said. "She does. He ordered a child bride from Russia online." I laughed. "You did the right thing in getting out when you did. You would've ended up like one of those clueless women married to the total psychopath on SVU with the child bride in the basement." "Groovy." "I'll have a Corona," David said to Xander, when we reached the bar. Xander looked at me for a long minute. He looked at me like I really pissed him off. "What about you, Hadley?" he asked. He sounded overly polite. Cold, if I was being honest. "Ginger ale would be great, thanks." I smiled as warmly as I could. "How are you?" "Fine, he said shortly. Xander filled a cup with ice and ginger ale. He looked at me with frozen eyes and pushed the glass across the bar. He handed David a beer.

"On the house," he said icily. "What's with him?" David asked as we watched him walk away. I shrugged, sipping my ginger ale. "I think I wanted vodka." "Now, you're being sensible." "Let's guess the name of the child bride," I said. "Tatiana." "Svetlana," I countered. "Anastasia." "Too 19th century." He chuckled. "Let's not think about Jack or Jack's child bride." "Fine," I said. I looked around. "Should we nap?" David disagreed with and disapproved of my suggestion. He snorted and dragged me over to the seniors in the GSA he had rekindled his friendships with. People were getting drunk, David included. Jack definitely included. I kept looking over to see if he was still around. He was never looking at me when I checked. "I'm going to go," I said, suddenly sick of it. "You sure?" David asked with concern. I nodded. "I'm tired." "Thank you for coming," he said. "I know you didn't want to." "Hey, it was fun. Im glad I came," I hugged him. "See you at home?"

He nodded. "Yeah." I left alone, shouldering out the door into the warm evening. I felt alone, I realized. Which was strange. I'd just been in a crowded room of people, but I felt disengaged from it, detached completely, profoundly unlinked to the people with whom I had so much in common. I had felt like this all the time before I started seeing Jack. It hadnt bothered me then. But now that I had been in crowded rooms with him and known what it was like to feel like the person next to you was, in some unique way, the exact same thing that you were, I missed it. And I hated feeling so detached. I wondered if I would always hate it now, or just when I saw Jack. I looked back at the door, wondering if I should give it one last shot. But I shook my head. I'd be graduating in two weeks. Id gotten a lot out of college, I told myself. I didnt need to ask for anything more. I had a degree, a friend named David who I would do anything for, and the job I had always wanted. All good things. But I felt like I'd missed out on some essential part of being young. I felt older than my classmates. I knew that was my fault. I turned back towards the road. I heard a familiar laugh and I turned to see Jack, and the pretty new girl, and it took a moment for him to see

me. He stopped laughing. I started walking. "Hey!" he called. I didn't turn around. I didn't want to meet the girl or talk to the boy or do any of the post-notbreaking up stuff. I heard his footsteps as he ran after me. "Hold up." "I'm going home." He looked at me. He looked like he was going to say something. "Jack!" she called. His face fell while he was looking at me. "You look good." I smiled. "Thanks. I'll see you around." "Let us drop you off." "That's okay. Really." I nodded. "It's a five minute walk. I'll be back before the cab's here." He looked resigned to that. "Shit, Hadley." "Jack! What's the address of this place?" she called. Jack closed his eyes briefly. "Hadley." "Jack, it's around the corner," I laughed. I pushed his shoulder playfully, but he locked his feet in place so I just ended up with my hand resting on his shoulder. I dropped it to my side. He looked deadly serious. I was the one who should've been annoyed and jealous, and I was, but it

wasn't fair. Of course he was with another girl. Of course she was pretty. Of course I was alone. "I'll see you around," I said. He didn't follow me and he didn't say anything but when I reached the corner, I snuck a glance over my shoulder at him. He was still watching.

Chapter Thirty-Eight
It was the feeling of detachment that prompted me to forgo the last weekend of festivities before graduation to apartment hunt with my father in New York. My mother and Solomon had both called to offer me Solomon's Greenwich Village apartment, but I didn't want that. I wanted a place of my own, where I paid the rent, and wouldn't be suddenly evicted when my mother's marriage fell apart. My dad needed to be in New York that weekend and said he'd look with me. I knew he'd be more practical about what I needed and what I'd be able to afford. "I still think this is a bad idea," my dad said when I met him at the hotel for lunch. I rolled my eyes. "Your boyfriend agreed with me," he pointed out. "He's not my boyfriend." "You broke up? "We were never dating." He sipped his water. "Your generation has some messed up ideas about normal relationships. You know that?" I inhaled sharply. "That boy likes you," he said. "Dad." "And you like that boy." "Dad."

"Screwy ideas," he said. "Shut up." He smiled, extracting a piece of bread from the basket before him. "You want to see what New York looks like on a journalist's salary?" I raised my eyebrows. He ripped the bread in half and took a bite. "It might be scarier than Syria." It wasn't scary. But it sure was small and overpriced. My father didn't gloat though. He let me ask the broker most questionsrent, security deposit, transport and he chimed in with things I wouldnt have thought of whether the building was responsible for fixing appliances, if the security deposit was fully refundable, if there was someone I could call if I ever lost my keys. My dad told me he thought I had a suicide gene when I told him I liked the place on 116th Street best. "Why?" I asked. He smiled. "This is Spanish Harlem. It has the highest crime rate in New York. "Well, it has high ceilings," I said. And it was clean and the neighborhood wasn't nearly as bad as my father made it out to be. I liked the idea of having a little bit more space up here instead of a closet and a bathroom further downtown. My dad cosigned the lease grudgingly and we went

to dinner; tired but infinitely relieved that we wouldnt have to spend the next day tramping around walk-ups. We ate at a famous restaurant in Harlem that my dad somehow knew somebody at. He was the opposite of me in that wayI didn't know people in places where I should. He knew people everywhere, even in places where he shouldn't. My dad started in on Jack again after we ordered wine. "You met him for five minutes. He stormed out of dinner," I said. "The only people worth keeping around are the ones who drive you crazy." He nodded. "If I figured that out when I was twenty-five, I'd probably have never left your mother." "You slept with a secretary." He shrugged. "It was complicated. So, why'd you dump him?" "How do you know he's not the one who dumped me?" "I saw how he looked at you. "Well, you must have been hallucinating because he ended things, I said. My dad studied me for a second and nodded, like he wasnt sure he believe me. "Your mother is in a state about you going to Syria." I exhaled. "It's not like I enlisted."

"No," he said. "I don't think you'd much like thinking about David going over there though." He paused. "Or Jack." "That's over." He cleared his throat, annoyed. "Listen, Hadley. All I'm asking is that you acknowledge our concern. You think you're doing something selfless and noble, and you are, but it's selfish to refuse to see how it affects the people who care about you." I bristled. "Oh, you think I'm being selfish?" I demanded. "Well, about time, don't you think? You know how many times we moved? You know how many different stepsisters and stepbrothers I grew up with that I don't talk to anymore? That mom told me were family members before she changed her mind?" The restaurant wasn't noisy enough to drown out my voice. The diners at the table next to us glanced over at me, seemingly perplexed. I lowered my voice, embarrassed. "I know it's selfish. Okay? It's for my career. But, I'm twenty-two. And you were never there. That was selfish. And instead of just getting on with things, Mom went looking for love. Over and over and over, no matter who we had to leave or where we had to go. That was selfish." Alright. He held up his hands in surrender. "Fair enough." "I know it affects you and I know I pretend not to

see it," I continued. "I feel like that's probably what you did when you came to visit, right? You pretended not to see how freaked out I was?" He didn't meet my eyes, looking down at a menu. I shrugged. "It might be different if you had ever given me the courtesy of acknowledging how things affected me. He rested his chin on his hand and cleared his throat. "I thought you'd be better off with your mother. "I'm sure you convinced yourself," I said. "But you're a smart guy. You don't get to run a company without noticing a few things. You knew I wouldn't be. You just wished I would." He leaned back and looked me in the eye. "I worked. Your mother didn't. I thought you'd be neglected if you lived with me. You would've been. I was working sixteen-hour days six days a week. I wouldve had to hire someone to raise you." He met my eyes. "I'm not saying it was perfectlife with your mother. I know it wasnt. I know that. But I did believe it was better. I didn't talk myself into thinking that. Maybe I was wrong, but I wasn't deceiving myself. The thing you learn when you grow up is how to make do with the choices you have. I hadn't expected an apology, but I didn't want an explanation either. "The point, Dad, is that you chose your career. And Mom chose romance. And neither of you chose me. So, the fact that Im choosing my career is something you should respect.

"It is, Hadley." I nodded. Well, good. He was quieter at dinner then. He told me about the tech company in Europe they'd been looking into, about how much savvier the young associates at work were, and about how he couldn't believe I was graduating from college.

Chapter Thirty-Nine
Dale shook my hand gruffly, while he was on the phone. "Well, whatever the fuck happens, we're not going to get scooped by Larry Dawes." I smiled and caught the eye of a much-younger reporter grinning in the corner. I couldnt believe I was hereat the New York Times as a new hire. Dale waved at the younger reporter to get his attention and made an indecipherable series of hand gestures. The younger reporter grinned. He nodded. He was tall and lanky with dark hair and square-framed glasses. "Hadley, I'm Kip Styles." "Nice to meet you." "You'll have to forgive Dale. He woke up in a good mood and he's been trying very hard not to show it." "I heard that," Dale growled. Kip laughed. "Come on. Let's get you set up." I followed him to an elevator bank and up to the eighteenth floor. "Youll be overseas mostly, right?" I nodded. Yeah. "So, you'll have a neat desk." He smiled. "You're young to be doing this." "What?" "Going to a conflict zone." He smiled. "You speak Arabic or something?" I nodded again. Um, yeah. I do.

"I thought so." He logged me into a computer and set up my email account. They usually don't take anyone out of college without good reason. Arabic is a good reason." I nodded. "What do you do?" "Metro," he said. "And I cover sports a little. Baseball and hockey. Cool. He nodded. Its fun. Not nearly as prestigious as international news, of course, but they also never send me further than Yankee Stadium. I smiled. Dale said hed come up to brief you and then you'll probably be free to go after that. He grinned. "Don't let him freak you out." I nodded. "Yeah. Sure. I won't." Kip left me for coffee and I looked around the newsroom in awe. I couldn't believe I was actually, really here. "Hey." Dale said, pocketing his Blackberry and coming back towards me. "Let's chat." I nodded and followed him into his office. He closed the door. "You're done with classes?" I nodded. "When's graduation?" "Saturday."

"Congratulations. So, Syria. What do you know?" I looked at him warily. "Where should I start?" "With the basics." "It's bordered by Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan." He nodded. "Official language is Arabic. The ruling party is the Ba'ath Party. Theyve been in power since 1963. The current conflict started in 2011, with the rest of the Arab Spring uprisings. Protests began relatively peacefully. However, the government tried to crush the demonstrations using military force. The protests developed into a violent uprising against the ruling party. In the past few months, its become a full-scale Civil War. Bashar al-Assad, the current President, has refused to resign under international pressure. I took a breath. The conflicts been going on for two years now. And its been complicated by religion and by the involvement of other countries. Assad is an Alawite, which means he's part of a minority branch of Islam, as opposed to the Sunni branch." I took a breath. "Large parts of the conflict can be found in the religious differences, as well as political ones." He nodded. "Good. Current death toll?" I lifted my shoulders. "I don't know. I haven't seen a specific number." "As of now, it's safe to say 40 to 50,000." I bit my lip. Christ.

"Meaning it could be many, many more. And millions of people have been displaced," Dale handed me a folder. "Here's our timeline of major events. It's helpful, but it's not the most important thing you should know. What you should know is that where we are sending you is extremely unstable. It's safe enough. We feel comfortable with the risk, but it is ultimately unstable. No matter how many facts you memorize, a clear head will be your most important asset." I nodded. "So, let's run through this." We ran through the grim facts. He talked. I listened and made notes. When we finished the most recent updates, he cleared his throat. "Right. You're fluent in Arabic. You won't be doing that much reporting at first. You'll contribute, but Erin and Kevin will do most of the writing. Chip does photos. The four of you will be a team." He nodded. "Think of yourself as a highly valuable assistant." He smiled. "The young man over there now is leaving us for law school. He burnt out quicklysix monthsbut a lot of people dont even last that long. I nodded. "So, rest up. You know? Let your friends have your fun. Tell them you need to sleep," he said. "As a precaution, we have hostage training sessions for anyone going over there. How much longer are you in town for?"

"Friday." "We can schedule it for Thursday. I think it's better to do this a few weeks before, so you're not panicked when you go." I nodded. "Yeah, sure."

Chapter Forty
I wanted to say the training had been reassuring. But it hadn't. I ended up with a notebook of things not to do and a foreboding sense that the training was a desperate attempt to assure workers they had some modicum of control. Dale had told me to delete my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts and to open new ones just for work. "Everyone uses social media now." He explained. "Even Syrians in the middle of a civil war." Deleting my Facebook seemed like especially good advice when I logged in and saw a picture of Jack with some delicate-looking Asian girl named Grace on my newsfeed. It could have just been a friendly photo. Jack was wearing his fraternitys senior week t-shirt and Grace was wearing one from her sorority. But they were both beaming at the camera. And for some reason I hated that. Delete. Gladly. During hostage training, I had thought of Jack only sparingly, which surprised me. I'd thought more of his father, who I felt I had actually come to know by reporting on him for Rileys class. I'd found video clips of him online. Alex resembled their father much more closely than Jack, but there was one short clip I found of Scott Diamond interviewing a man outside of the New York Stock Exchange. It was a boring interview about exchange rates. But it was just like watching Jack. They had all the same mannerisms.

I wondered if Scott Diamond had known to not beg. Begging, they told us, made you easier to kill. Personal details, however, were helpful. The things your father said when you went fishing, the cake your mother cooked for your twelfth birthday, the bedtime story your sister told her kids. Those things humanized you. Those things, they told us, could save your life. I wondered if they taught Scott Diamond to be compliant and calm. I wondered if he tried to tell the men who killed him about Jack and Alex and Julie. I wondered if any of it mattered at all.

Chapter Forty-One
My mother came to town in a blue dress and with Solomon, intent on not speaking to my father, in keeping with tradition. My parents turned out to be easier to ignore than they'd been before. David chattered at my mother and plied her with champagne until she remembered the only thing she loved more than not speaking to my father was being the center of attention. Justin's parents came, too. They were lovely. My mother rolled her eyes when Justin's mother explained she worked as a neurosurgeon. I understood for the first time in my life that my mother looked down on women who worked so that she would not have to look down on herself. When Justins mother asked what she did for a living, she spoke haughtily: "I'm a mother," she said, turning her attention towards Sol. My father's eyebrows took off towards his hairline. My parents, Solomon, and Justins parents left us after dinner so we could be wild for one last night. We found Andrew and Nigel and Juliet and we drank underneath a big white tent, laughing with each other, telling each other we couldnt believe it was over, wondering what wed missed, wondering when we would see each other again. I laughed a lot. We were far enough away from the

music that I could talk to Andrew who was moving to D.C. to work for the weather bureau and to Juliet, who had been named the next Editor-in-Chief, without yelling. Juliet and Justin commiserated about how much they would miss us next year. We all promised to come back and see them. I saw Jack from afar, or at least I thought I did. I saw plaid and dark hair and that familiar walk. I sipped my beer and bit my lip. I wanted to talk to him. I pulled my hair into a ponytail, finished my drink for courage, and followed him. I found him with Xander and thankfully without a girl. Xander saw me first and nudged Jack with his shoulder. Jack turned. He hadnt shaved in a few days. He looked scruffy. It was a good look on him. Hey, there, he said. Xander got to his feet, nodded at meHey, Hadleyand turned towards a crowd of boys in their fraternity so that Jack and I were alone. Jack stood up to his full height and looked at me. He smiled. So, Hadley Arrington. So, Jack Diamond. I wavered, thinking about what my dad had said about selfishness. Id been selfish. And Jack had been selfish. We chose ourselves instead of the other person. Youre something else, you know that? Youre not so bad yourself, I said.

He nodded. He sipped his beer. You leave tomorrow? After the ceremony, yep. He smiled. What about you? Where you headed? New York, he nodded. My moms house in the suburbs, though. Not the city. I need to figure some things out. Yeah, I said. Well, thats good. He nodded. Itll be nice. A lot of people will be nearby. I snuck a look across the tent. The metal poles were wrapped in Christmas lights, the van Morrison song playing sounded a little sadder than it usually did, and Jack looked damn good. Thank you, Jack said, with a smile. I flushed. What? You said I looked damn good. Thank you. I closed my eyes. Jesus. Im sorry. I could feel my face flaming. He laughed. Its fine. You always look damn good. He licked his lips and stared at me nakedly. So, maybe well see each other, I ventured. I tried to think of him in New Yorkthe both of us growing up a little bitand then maybe in a few years. God, I really hope not, Hadley, he said. Right. I swallowed. Yeah. Sorry. Sorry, I just

the music and ceremony and all thatits making me sentimental. Congratulations, though. On graduating. He smiled sadly and I smiled sadly back. You too. Illwell, maybe Ill see you at the ceremony, I said, with a shaky smile. He laughed bitterly. Ill go though. Sorry. I turned. He reached for my wrist and pulled me close to him. He ran his thumb over the veins on my wrist near the base of my palm. His hands were warm and gentle, calloused. They felt so good. I exhaled heavily. It felt like so long since Id been touched. Hadley Arrington, he murmured. I swallowed. He looked me in the eyes, pulled me close, and kissed me gentlyhis lips like a flutter of butterfly wings against mine. Goddamn, I miss you. He said. II wish I didnt know what to say. Me too. He raked his fingers through my hair, loosening the ponytail, cupping my chin in his hands. Hey, be safe, okay? Yeah. I will. He nodded at me, our eyes were locked, and I thought briefly that maybe we could salvage it. Maybe we could fix it. Maybe we could be whole.

Goodbye, Hadley.

Chapter Forty-Two
I cried over Jack Diamond when I got home. Instead of crying at graduation, I cried over Jack. He was right to say goodbye then. I searched for his face, briefly, when we threw our caps into the air, when we turned out to meet our families, when people were crying from joy and sadness and possibly from colossal hangovers. I couldnt find him. I clung to David, who couldnt stop laughing. Were done, done, done, done, he chanted. But later David clung to Justin, and they reaffirmed that theyd be able to make a long-distance relationship work, and my mother and Solomon went to the airport and my father came back over to help me with the last of my belongings. Davids flight to San Francisco was the following day. My dad waited in the hallway while I hugged David tightly and he started crying again. No, no, no, I said. Weve got to be happy. Well see each other. We will. It wont be the same. I kissed him on the cheek. Youll always be my best friend. I gave him the cappuccino machine and tried not to burst into tears when he said: Four years and its finally all mine!

We drove to the airport. We had separate flights my dads to Beijing and mine to New York and he hugged me at the gate. In a few days, Id be in Syria and hed move onto Tokyo before looping back to London. Im proud of you, kid, he said gruffly, pushing a wrapped box into my hand, and disappearing towards the international terminal. I opened it waiting for my flight, thinking it would be a delicate piece of jewelry selected by his assistant. But it was a satellite phone. The perfect present. I took a breath and exhaled. I told myself Id be okay.

Chapter Forty-Three
Theyre sending us fucking babies now, Kevin Dell said at baggage claim at the airport in Damascus. Judging from the airport, you wouldnt know the country was at war. It was clean, and while there were armed soldiers, it didnt seem much different from JFK. I knew it was Kevin Dell because Id spent the last week memorizing the rsums of the three journalists Id be working with. Kevin Dell was the most senior. 42, grizzled, Pulitzer Prize-winner, a leg full of shrapnel, a bad divorce in 2003, and more accolades than you could count. Fucking babies, Dell repeated. He was speaking to Chip Clark, the handsome Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer with a million dollar smile. You Hadley? Chip asked. Yeah. Kevin Dell extended a hand. I shook it. Im Dell. This is Chip Clark, Dell said, knocking Chip in the stomach. Chip was thirty, somewhat of a prodigy. Id seen his photographs before. They tended to be heart-stopping. We were just missing Erin, an experienced broadcast journalist who had grown up in Australia and broken several major stories about international corruption. Let me grab your bag, Chip offered.

No, carry your own bag, Dell said. He looked at Chip. Its not the fucking Ritz Carlton. Lets not give her any ideas. Chip smiled at that, and we walked through a series of metal detectors out into the bright, shining morning. I saw her sitting in the passengers side of the Jeep; Erin Phipps, in olive green pants, with a headscarf falling back from her blond hair onto her fine shoulders. She had a cigarette clenched between her teeth. She looked sort of like a movie star. I tossed my bag into the back of the jeep as Dell jumped into the front. Christ, how old are you? Erin asked in a raspy voice. She sounded kind of like a movie star too. I told you. Shes a baby, Dell said. Im twenty-two. Erin nodded and exhaled a thin stream of smoke through her teeth. Welcome to hell, kid. Chip climbed into the back with me. Its not that bad. Dont sugarcoat things, Dell said. Were staying in Damascus, which is safe. We go out into the rebel-controlled cities every few days. Things have gotten a bit hairy the last few weeks. You dont want to be caught outside of Damascus after dark. I nodded. Right.

Chip looked out at the highway. We couldve been anywhere. There were billboards, cars, no signs of unrest. I shifted uneasily. Weird, huh? Chip said, looking at me. Sorry? Its weirdhow calm it seems, he explained. And like twenty miles away everythings gone to hell. I nodded. Yeah. It is. They didnt give me much time to settle in before we went out to talk to a rebel commander. I left my stuff at the hotel, grabbed a tape recorder, a bottle of water, and a notebook and followed them back out for the days assignment. We drove out to Daraa. A military stronghold that was vulnerable to rebel takeover. It was an hours drive to Daraa. The world changed in an hour. You could hear firefights once you started heading south towards the strongholds. Erin and Dell were joking about the bombastic general we were going to interview and Chip occasionally snapped photos. Take one of Hadley, Dell suggested, watching in the rearview mirror. Before and after shes seen this fucking mess. He grinned and snapped a photo. I was sure I

looked uneasy. Were coming up to a checkpoint, Dell told me. Time to shine. I was grateful to have something to do. Put on a headscarf, Chip said seriously. I pulled one on awkwardly. Chip snorted and adjusted it quickly. His touch was utilitarian, like I was a camera, something that he was handling for work. Erin yawned. Misogynist bullshit, Arrington. Get used to it. Dell rolled down his window. Salaam, he said. The Syrian guard barked quickly for ID and I handed him our passports and press credentials, speaking as deferentially as I could. The guard gave me a hard look but waved us through. I settled back against the seat, feeling relieved. We drove to the rebel commanders offices. We were ushered in wordlessly. Dell had interviewed him before. I was the only one who was new. The commander spoke in English. Shes new. He nodded at me. What happened to the boy? Law school, Dell said, glaring at me so I knew not to talk. He studied at me suspiciously, but said nothing else. I turned on my tape recorder and waited for him to lapse into Arabic. He didnt.

Chip fiddled with his phone. Having been told not to take pictures, he had nothing to do with his hands. Whats up? Dell asked, turning to him. Bathroom? Chip said. He waved his phone at Dell and Dell nodded. He was escorted from the room, and a few seconds, having asked nothing more than softball questions, Erin thanked the commander for taking the time to meet with us and we started to go. I didnt understand what was going on until Chip was in the car. Whats going down? Dell demanded. Two suicide bombers attacked a rebel stronghold. What? Unconfirmed. Where? Dell asked. Northwest corner of the city. Anyone taking responsibility? Erin demanded, tapping out a text or email on her Blackberry. No, no, not that I can see. People are saying ISIS or the military. It cant be the military. Unconfirmed, unconfirmed, Chip shouted as we sped off. We reached a smoking pile of rubble a short while later. I shivered while I heard the gunfire. Id never heard it so close. A screaming child ran past a crumbling wall in

the direction we had driven from. Focus, Chip said quietly to me. Seriously, heads up now. I nodded, trying to worry where someone that small would have to go for help in a place like this. Dell gestured to a distraught man who was motioning wildly at the destruction. I closed my mind and just began to translate for them.

Chapter Forty-Four
After the first day, I didnt think anything could shock me. It all blended together. We worked in groups of two or four, depending on what needed to be done. Increasingly, Chip and I were on our own. Chip had no Arabic, but Erin and Dell had enough to get by together. It made sense, even if it left us without a more senior reporter. I filed my first story on the second day. It would be buried in the international section when it was printed, a brief write-up on medical shortages in rebel-controlled regions. On my third day, I just started sending briefs to the New York office, un-copyedited, unspectacular. Just information. They were folded into larger stories by practiced reporters based in New York and London. I couldnt remember when my first week ended and the second one began. I certainly did not know what day of the week it was most of the time. So, I dont know when we saw the girl die. Chip was swearing as darkness fell. Our Jeep was nowhere to be found. We had both begun to fear it had been stolen. We were in the outskirts of a dangerous part of the city, the sky was fading to gray, and the gunfire sounded close, maybe just a few blocks away. Wed gone to chase down another story of carnage, and wed found carnage, but too much gunfire for Chip to

safely photograph it, so we turned back for the Jeep. And it had fucking vanished. Didnt we park it here? I demanded. I dont know! he screamed. He breathed. Sorry. He ran a hand through his hair. Weve got to move, though. We cant just stand here. Where? Just walk. Ill call Dell. He dialed and we walked north, past broken windows and crumbled houses, the loud roar of the world in our ears. Dell, its Chip. Our car was stolen and were walking north along the city borderyeah, I fucking know. He sighed. Were not far. Alright, well try to get there. Weve got to move, he said, breaking into a jog. What did he say? To move, Chip snapped. I heard the urgency in his voice and I started to run with him. Were meeting him at the edge of the ruins by the mosque, alright? He shook his head. The whole city has gone to fucking hell. He pulled me left down a familiar street. Listen, if we get split up or if I get hurt, just run to the ruins and get Dell. Did he say to do that? I asked, thinking it couldnt possibly come to that. Yeah, he said. We started to hear shelling. It was close, really

close. It was so loud that it obscured the gunfire. My ears rang. Shit, shit, Chip yelled. Lets cut through here. He nodded at an alleyway. No, no, no, I shouted, grabbing at his wrist. It was a narrow alley that went between two buildings and we could so easily be shot by a sniper from the rooftop windows. Its faster. No, lets go the way we know. A man pushed two young children in front of him, hustling them down the same alleyway. I heard him urging them to run home as he unholstered a weapon. I saw the blood blooming from the girls forehead at the same time as I heard the gunshot. She fell to the ground. She was dead. I knew immediately. The father cried out and scooped up her tiny, broken body, howling even as he urged his son home, carrying her with him. Oh my god, I said, in a strangled whisper. We heard another shot and Chip ducked. Run! We sprinted along the path that we knew. I ignored the gunfire, shaking, seeing the that little girl die again and again as I ran. How old had she been? Five? Maybe six. How much more fair would it have been if I were shot instead of her?

When we reached the rubble at the square, we saw Dells Jeep. Chip doubled over and threw up. Christ, he said. Dell didnt say anything when we got into the car. Chip climbed into the back and swore incoherently as we sped down the bumpy road. When we reached the main highway, he spoke. You guys okay? Chip didnt say anything. Clark, I need to hear your fucking voice. Fine, he said hollowly. Hadley? Im good. Im fine. Dell swore again and punched the steering wheel and sped all the way back to Damascus. I ate with Chip. If you could call it eating. Neither of us touched our food. We sat on the floor of his room, which was messier than mine and covered in his jawdropping photographs. You two are off-duty tomorrow, Dell advised us. I dont care what they report. He left us to go to Erin and work on their writeups. How old do you think she was? I asked Chip. He shook his head. Like six, right? I asked. Shut up, Chip said. Its not going to do any

good talking about it. I mean, like, nobodytheres not anythingthat should be an atrocious thing, and its not. Like, theres so much bad shit going on, nobody will even care about Shut up or get out, Chip said. Im serious. I cant think about this shit. I got out. I didnt like being yelled at for trying to have a conversation I badly needed to have. Knowing I could sleep in the next day made everything worse. I chose to stay up, reading through pages and pages of information on Twitter. The Arabic script blurred into one continuous stream. 140 characters and all anyone had was bad news. They were right , I thought, as I fell asleep at sunrise. I had no fucking idea what I was getting into.

Chapter Forty-Five
The day off was worse. Because I had to reckon with what wed experienced. I didnt want to see Chip, but I didnt want to be alone. I wrote back to Davids emails. Hed sent me eight and the latest was cheery, but concerned: Hadley girl, Are you ignoring me? Its foggy here and wonderful and Justin is trying to change a light bulb and failing, but its twenty feet in the air, so I cant blame him! Hope you are safe. Love, David I started the email four or five times. It wouldve been selfish to complain to him. I couldnt tell him a child had been shot and nobody had called the police or done anything because that was just one of the things that happened all the time here. I wrote a short piece on it, trying to fit the cruel and personal tragedy into an article that could run in a newspaper. I finished it and sent it to Dale, knowing hed say that it wasnt something they could run in a national newspaperit was just an anecdote, not a news story, but I told myself at least I would know that I had tried, that at least I had bothered to write something down, at least I would have a record of her death, those few seconds,

something that gave one of so many victims a public record of death. Even if I didnt know her name. Chip couldnt stand being alone in the hotel any more than I could. He knocked on my door, muttered a gruff apology for snapping, and offered food. I let him come in. I think they might evacuate us, he said. I mean, this is getting fucking crazy. I nodded in agreement. There wasnt much else to say. When I was twenty-two, I saw a five-year-old girl get shot. Maybe she was six. Ill never know her name. And I knew nobody got to decide how their life went. Not really.

Chapter Forty-Six
I never thought about anybody in Syria, because I was focused on what was happening. Transcribing the story, keeping an eye on the door, looking out for Chip, knowing that we might need to move at any second, any second at all. You cant think about your mother and father when youre screaming over the sound of shelling in a language you learned in quiet classrooms halfway around the world. I saw things worse than that five-year-old little girl dying. Bloodier things. Sadder things. Eventually you stop putting things on the scale. Its all horrible, you cant tell the difference, so you turn each horrible thing into a fact. A girl shot. A man executed. A teenager bound and beaten and killed because someone repeated a story he told in his history class. Another journalist missing. Rumors of chemical attacks again. One long night, as we drove silently away from a horrific scenesame old story in a brand new placeI pressed my head to the window of the truck, squinting out into the darkness at the cities from which everyone vanished. Erin was cold, Dell rough, Chip brittle. None of them invited closeness. Neither did I. But I felt like I was vanishing, too. The things that had grounded me in place,

the people I spoke to, the routines I had, my family, David, theyd all disappeared. Chip had told me if anything happened to him, I should tell his parents how much he loved them. I told him I would. I was sure they already knew that. I realized that if anything happened to me, I would want someone to tell Jack Diamond that I had loved him. I had never told that to anyone. He would never know if I died here. I watched the unlit buildings and land and I thought of Jack, like he was just out there, beyond reach. I remembered his warmth. I remembered that he comforted me, somehow, when I didnt even know I needed comfort, someone to hold onto at night when I wondered what the hell the point of anything was. I wanted him. I missed him. I would trade this for him. I would trade this for nothing. But I wanted to trade it for him.

Chapter Forty-Seven
Chip grabbed me before dawn, on maybe two hours of sleep, and he said we had to go, pushing a can of Red Bull into my hand. Pierre says theyve got real evidence now. Massive casualties. Evidence of what? Chemical weapons, Chip shouted. Wed been chasing proof of chemical weapons attacks for weeks now. Having interviewed dozens of rebels across the country, we knew it was unlikely for such uniform stories to come out without attacks having occurred. Some doctors had told us that they had treated patients whose symptoms lined up with exposure to neurotoxins, but wed found no other evidence to corroborate that and we couldnt print stories other than ones that said Syrian rebels claimed to be attacked by chemical arms. I pulled my boots on, and a jacket, and grabbed my flip camera and recorder and phone. We were on the road before 3 AM. Chip tossed me one of the gas masks from the glove compartment. Seriously? Pierre says its hot, he said. Take it. Pierre was a French journalist who had reported on patients admitted to the emergency room with

symptoms of gaseous poisoning a few months back. We trusted him, but he hadnt been able to confirm anything other than the doctors accounts. Rebels were hard to track down, young men in danger of dying, and if you could find them, they might not want to talk. They never knew who they were putting in danger. Where? I asked. In Ghouta, Chip said. He shook his head. The last alleged attack had been in Adra. The patients are coming in now, Chip said. He looked at me. Its going to be grim if Pierres right. He said a couple thousand could die. Jesus, I said. Yeah. We parked in the dark near the hospital, and we could see there was a lot of activity already. We jogged towards the entrance to the emergency room, and then we saw it all. The vomiting women and children coughing blood, tiny bodies slumped against walls, medics shouting over screaming patients, doctors restraining wild-eyed boys. Pierre had abandoned his camera and was talking rapidly to a doctor in French. What the hell? Chip said. What the fuck is going on? Were almost out of atropine, the doctor said. Were going to need to divert patients to facilities where

they can be treated. Whats atropine? I asked Pierre. Its the antidote to Sarin, he muttered in English. Holy fuck, Chip muttered. He lifted his camera and began to take pictures. I looked around bewildered for someone who wasnt too sick to talk, but it seemed impossible. I closed my eyes and took a short breath. It was hard for me to breathe too. I panicked fleetingly, wondering if the attack was ongoing, if I was in danger of dying. It felt that waythe way my heart was pounding. I found a boy, sitting alone, maybe thirteen. He was a child by my standards, but an adult by the standard of this room. He was crying softly, in between huffing air from an oxygen mask. Can I ask you a few questions? I asked softly in Arabic. He nodded. Do you remember what happened? We were sleeping, he began. And I woke up, my mother screaming that the baby wasnt breathing. He went on. He had five sisters. His father, a rebel, was dead, and his two older brothers had joined the fight against Assad. The baby died, he told me. He started crying again, softly.

Whats your name? I asked. Jabbar. Did they get out? Are they here? He shook his head. I ran for help, but everyone needed help. They brought me here instead. I bit my lip. Tears slid down his cheeks. Do your brothers know where you are? He shook his head. A doctor came and shooed me away and I watched him, wishing I had the time to be heartbroken for him, wishing I had the resources to find his brothers. Jabbar. Jabbars baby sister died. Chip found me in a hallway, trying to catch my breath. He pulled me by the arm. They want us out of here. Were going to the mosque. What? Why? They want us out. Say we might get exposed and theyre running out of resources to treat people. We followed Pierre out of the hospital and deeper into the city. It was still and silent in the square as the sun rose. We got out of the Jeep and closed the car doors, and realized why. There were announcements being read over the loudspeakers: a list of names. And across the square, in neat lines, wrapped in white sheets were hundreds of bodies. Normal adults ones, child ones, toddlers, and tiny, little infant bundles. My heart dropped.

I couldnt do this. It thudded against my chest. I thought I could do this but I knew then that I couldnt. I couldnt do this. At the end of the long nightmare of that day, we got the call wed been expecting. The call Id been waiting for. Were pulling you out. Chip and Erin will go to Lebanon. Arrington, were pulling back to New York. Dell, youve got authority to continue reporting, but were moving you to Turkey, Dale told us. We heard the heaviness in his voice over the speaker phone. You did good work. But were bringing you home.

Chapter Forty-Eight
A blare of sirens woke me. New York sirens. Harlem sirens. The kind of sirens you know not to worry about. But it was the third time theyd woken me and Id dropped out of my bed and onto my knees, like I was expecting bullets to spray through the window. It was only one in the morning. I picked up my cell phone with shaky hands and called David. He might be awake, out in San Francisco. Hey girlfriend! Im so glad youre back in New York, he trilled. Now we can speak on the phone. Hey, David, I said. I swallowed. Whats wrong? he asked. Nothing. Just. Cant sleep. David had been more shaken than I had been able to be over the chemical attacks. I didnt know how to make it make sense in my head and Id stopped trying. Tell me something about San Francisco, I told him. Its cloudy. I smiled. But I can see the Bay Bridge from my window. I bet you remember that. I like the Bay Bridge. I think the Golden Gate is overrated. I mean, its so out there. Red! And suspended. But the Bay Bridge is blue. It doesnt

really want your attention. Im really into that quality in a bridge. I laughed. And its the one I can see from my window, so its my favorite. I laughed again. It was the fifth night in a row Id called him. He told me about the homeless man with the golden voice who hung out near his building and how he was going to visit Justin in a few weeks and then, when he was sure I was good and calm, he said. Hey, Hadley, I was thinking maybe you should talk to someone about what happened in Syria. If you cant sleep. You know? I nodded. I didnt want to see anybody. I wanted to get tough and get on with it. I just needed a few more days. Yeah. I smiled. Yeah, if it keeps up, I will. I still think its jetlag. Youre not recovering from the flight, David told me. It was only three months. Dale had given me the week off, not just given it to me, but demanded I take it. It doesnt matter, David said. I saw someone after what happened with Ben. It helped a lot. I think it might help you, too. I nodded. Yeah. Ill think about it.

Chapter Forty-Nine
My third day back at the office in New York, when I was starting to think I would be okay, we had an unannounced fire drill. I had a panic attack. I thought maybe it was asthma, and then I thought maybe I was having a heart attack, and knowing both were impossible, I tried to keep quiet while everyone got up and left their desk. But I was paralyzed. I couldnt move. I stood, holding the edge of my desk, afraid I would collapse. Dale recognized it when he walked past my desk. Hadley, lets go, he shouted. And then he took a closer look at me. Jesus, youre shaking. Are you okay? Yes, I managed. Do you have asthma? I shook my head. "You sick?" I shook my head vehemently. I think youre having a panic attack, he said. Hold your breath for a few seconds then let it go. And sit down. My wife says that helps. When I finally got my breathing under control, I wished he'd left me. I wished it were an actual fire and I was dying of smoke inhalation. I was mortified. You two didnt hear the drill? the fire marshal demanded, walking down the hallway to check if we were

all clear. Give us a pass. Kid doesnt like sirens, okay? Dale shot back. The marshal looked from Dale to me and back to Dale. He nodded. All clear," he shouted out, to whomever was listening before he disappeared from sight. Dale leaned over my desk and picked up a notepad. He scrawled a name onto it. Sorry, I said, my face burning. He shook his head. Dont be. I shook from the adrenaline. He handed me a piece of paper. Dr. Jane Ferguson. Make an appointment. She can help. You need help with that. Alright? You cant handle it on your own. You dont need to tell me about it if you dont want to. But you need to call her. I nodded. Yeah, I will. Look, Im going to give you another week off. See the doctor, see what she says, and write a fun story. Write about the fucking fall foliage in New England or some shit. Go to a dog park. He smiled. I nodded. Take off. Dont worry, he said. I nodded again, packing up my stuff. Humiliated as hell. I had to get a grip. Dr. Ferguson didnt ask me that many questions. I told her I was having panic attacks since Syria, I thought it was

temporary, and I didnt want to talk about it too much. She told me to take a Xanax when I felt one coming on and to come back in two weeks. I wrote a story about dog parks. And I went for a few long walks. And when the phone rang incessantly at work and the edge of terror crept in, I took a Xanax. It helped at first. And then it stopped helping. I went back to Dr. Ferguson. She upped my dosage and said I should try talk therapy. I said I'd stick to the pills. Dale called one afternoon when I was trying to figure out how to get my hands to stop shaking. "I just wanted to see how you were doing." "I'm great," I said tightly. "Yeah? That's good." I swallowed. "I should be able to come into the office soon." He was quiet. "Don't rush it. I liked the story on dog parks. You could do a whole series. I smiled and swallowed, staring at the bleak walls of my apartment. I should decorate. I should decorate, put down roots, and reach out to the people I knew here. I should go back to work. I heard a siren in the distance. "Look, if it makes you feel any better, Chip's still

on leave. You guys saw some horrible shit, he said. Nobody thinks any less of you for needing time to get over it. The siren got louder. It's just a noise. I took a breath and let it go, thinking about the subway and the East River. I knew I was supposed to ground myself in the present, that a panic attack was misinterpreting something that was harmless as danger, that it was fear in the absence of danger. I'm not in danger, I reminded myself. The sirens were coming up my block now. "I have to go," I told Dale. Thanks for calling. I dropped the phone and scrambled to the bathroom for my Xanax. I was fine, either by the time the medication kicked in or by the time the sirens faded. I wanted Jack, I realized. I wanted Jack. He was the only person who ever seemed to get me, to get all of me, and he was the only person who I believed might get this, too. When I caught my breath, I scrolled to his number and to the picture Id taken of him one morning when we were still together. It was a goofy shot of him sitting in his boxers on the corner of his bed with his hair standing up in sheer defiance of the laws of gravity. I pressed my thumb as lightly as I could against his image. I called him.

I didn't lift the phone to my ear. I didn't put it on speaker. I heard the faint ringing buzz from my hand. I wanted it to go to voicemail and I wanted him to have the same message he had in college. Hey, it's Jack. Leave a message and I'll call you back. It wasn't funny or original at all. It was just the way he said it, like he didn't care who was calling. I could imagine him leaning back on a couch, easy and relaxed. I swallowed, tears blurring before my eyes. I finally put the phone to my ear. I didn't get his voice, though. "You've reached the voice mailbox of Jack Diamond," a computer informed. "Please leave a message at the tone." I swallowed hard on a thick lump in my throat. I turned the phone off before the tone. I couldn't even breathe normally. Get a grip, Hadley. But I didn't even know what that meant anymore. I was going to work tomorrow, I told myself. I wasn't getting any better staying inside. I needed to go out there. I needed to face it.

Chapter Fifty
The phone rang around 11. "Hello?" I said, pulling myself up, rubbing my eyes, glancing at the clock. For a fleeting moment I was transported back to Syria, to the early morning wake-up calls, the sudden arrival of danger. I switched on a light and got to my feet. "Hadley?" I swallowed. "It's Jack." I walked to the window, and pressed my hand and my forehead to the cold glass and closed my eyes. His voice was like water. It was like water when you've been thirsty. "I saw you called." I heard a grin behind the familiar rumble of his voice. "Well, I'm almost sure it was you. I deleted your number, but you had the three threes. So..." "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, it was me." I kept my eyes closed. It had only been a few months ago when Jack felt dangerous. And a few months of real danger had changed all of that. "You okay? Did I wake you up?" "Yeah, I'm good." I opened my eyes. I'm good. I'm good. I'm fine. How long had I been telling people that?

"I read all your stories," he ventured. "Sorry. That's weird. It sounds like I'm stalking you. Are you back in New York for now?" "Yeah, yeah. I'm in New York. Are you still at your Moms?" "No, actually. I'm in Brooklyn." "Brooklyn." Brooklyn was close. "Yeah. I'm teaching at a charter school." "Wow." "Well, I'm teaching art. I'd save the wow if I were you." I smiled, stupidly sad that he was so much the same. I turned from the window, feeling the early fall chill on my neck. "I bet the kids like you." He laughed. "They do, actually. Which I find disturbing." "Yeah?" I looked down at my socks and rubbed one against the other. "Why? I think that makes sense." "It does make sense. Theyre like, here is a man who seems incapable of tying his own shoes and whose favorite subject doesnt count. I identify with this person. I couldn't do anything but laugh at that. "So, how are you?" he asked, when the line had gone quiet. "Was there a reason you called?" I smiled. "No, no. Just, misdialed." "Ah. Gotcha," he said, knowingly. "Well, sorry to wake you up then. I'll let you go.

"Wait," I said. "Wait, I didn't misdial." "Okay." I took a breath. "I miss talking to you." I closed my eyes, surprised at the stillness of the world. "Syria...." I didn't know what to say about Syria. Maybe there was nothing to say. Maybe there never would be anything to say. "Would you comewould you want to come over?" I asked. I bit my lip. "Now?" he asked. "Oh...no, no. I mean, just maybe sometime," I said backpedaling. "I can come over now," he said, calmly. "If you want." I nodded and swallowed. "Id really like that. "Give me half an hour, okay?" I nodded. "Yeah. Okay." About half an hour later, I realized I was still in sweatpants in a t-shirt with my hair in a mangled half-bun on top of my head. I pulled off the stained, neon-green t-shirt. Where the hell had I ever gotten that? I put on a bra, and a normal-looking white sweater. And I brushed my hair back and braided it. The buzzer downstairs announced Jack's arrival. I pressed my thumb over the black button. I could hear his footsteps on the last flight of stairs. They were steady. My

heart beat twice for every one of his steps. The doorbell rang. I smiled for practice and then I walked to the door and opened it. He looked good, his hair was a bit shorter, he was clean shaven, and he was wearing a soft white Henley instead of plaid. Maybe he'd changed a little, too. I smiled. "Hey, you look great!" He laughed and then he hugged me. It wasn't a normal kind of hug. He held me tightly. "I'm really, really glad you called," he said. He walked into my apartment, closing the door behind him. "Are you back for good? How was it? I read your articles and they were great." He paused. "I mean, they were scary. I hated thinking of you there. But they were great." "Oh." I nodded. "Um, thanks. Yeah, we're back for good. A stringer for a French paper died and..." I shrugged. "After the chemical attacksIt was getting pretty volatile when we left." He nodded. "That's good. I mean, that you're back for good." I met his eyes, which looked as clear as they ever had. He had been right to worry. I had been stupid not to. I looked away. "Listen, I was thinkinga lot. About giving you an ultimatum. That was shitty." "Oh," I said. I shrugged. "No. Not at all. It was..." I searched for words. I came up with nothing. Again. "Do

you want to sit down?" He sat on the couch. "Do you want wine or anything?" "Yeah, sure," he said. He smiled. I walked to the kitchen. I heard sirens, distantly enough that they didn't surprise me. Still I frowned as they grew louder and then began to fade again. My hands shook slightly as I poured two glasses. Shook even while I handed him one, and his fingers lightly brushed mine. "So, how's work?" he asked, taking one. He smiled. I shrugged. "I, um...actually Im kind of on leave." I paused, sitting down on the couch. I glanced away from him. "I didn't deal with things so well when I came back." He didn't say anything for a moment. "Jesus. I'm sorry. Do you want to talk about it?" I shrugged. "I don't know what to say." I smiled bitterly. "It sucked. You were right. I never should have gone." I took a sip of my wine, and then another, focusing on the cold liquid. I swallowed and exhaled. "I never said that," he said quietly. "It was never about you being wrong. It was about me wanting you to stay." "Well, I should've stayed," I said. I took another sip of my wine. "Why are you on leave...exactly?" he asked

delicately. I shrugged. "Sorry. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." "I had a panic attack." I tried to say this nonchalantly. "Or something. During a fire drill. The managing editor told me to take some time off." Jack was quiet. "Are you seeing a doctor or anything?" I shrugged. "Yeah. She gave me Xanax. It helps. Sometimes." I sighed. I looked at him again. "Sorry. I bet you're regretting calling me back, huh?" He shook his head. "No. Not at all. I nodded. Oh. "So what happened?" he asked. "The fire alarm just went off and I freaked out," I ran a hand through my hair. "In Syria, I mean." I turned my head and looked out the window. I hadn't talked about Syria with anyone, not really. "There were chemical attacks." "To you, though. What happened to you in Syria?" "I don't know." I closed my eyes. I shook my head. "I saw a little girl die." I looked at him. "She was young, maybe six. And then, the bodies outside of the Mosque after the chemical attacks." I lifted my shoulders helplessly, trying to recall the particularly brand of

desperation that had closed in. My throat tightened up, warning me not to say any more. I tried to clear it and, finding that impossible, gave him a fake smile and took a breath. I started to cry silently. I brushed the tears away from my face roughly and took a breath. Hey, hey, he said comfortingly. He put an arm around me, which made it worse. Its okay. I took a few deep breaths. Sorry. I probably shouldnt talk about it. How have you been?" He smiled. "I have been okay." He nodded. "I think about you a lot. I, um, wanted to tell you how much I regretted giving you an ultimatum. "It's okay." He shook his head. "No, it's not really. I fucked everything up." "I fucked everything up," I told him. He rubbed his chin. "I dont know. Were both responsible. Well, listen. I know that you can't be with me like I wantedlike I thought I needed." I was quiet. I wanted to say that maybe I could. "But it seems like you could use a friend right now." "Yeah," I said. I exhaled. "Yeah, probably. I could use, you know, a team of psychiatrists, too." He smiled a bit sadly. "So, you know. Maybe I could be that for you." I met his eyes. "I don't know if you want to be my

friend." "I do." He looked at me. "No benefits," he said, with a grin. "I think that was the problem. But, we could be friends. That could work for me, I think. I mean, I think I would like that." I sipped my wine and decided to tell him the truth. "Would you say something?" he asked. He laughed. "No," I said. "What?" "No, I don't want to be friends with you," I said. I said it automatically, and more fiercely and surely than I had said anything in a long time. "I don't want to be your friend." He raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "Okay. Fine. "I don't want to be friends," I repeated. "Yeah. I got it." I sipped my wine again, for courage. "Do you remember when you told me you loved me?" He cringed. "Jesus, Hadley." "Do you?" "We really have to revisit this?" he demanded. I stared at him. He exhaled. "Yeah, I remember, Hadley." He rubbed his chin. "Obviously, I remember. And if you don't want to be friends, then I don't want to talk about it." He got to his feet and pulled on his coat. "You know, if you

change your mind. Give me a call. I won't tell you I love you. And, for what it's worth, I'm sorry." He moved towards the door. Jack, just listen. I didn't know what to say. But, I do now. I should have said that I loved you." I looked at him, just a stolen glance. He looked stricken, more than anything. "In Syria, I was out with our photographer one night, and our jeep was stolen. And Chip told me "I'm really not a fan of Chip," Jack said. "What?" I said. "Never mind," he smiled wryly. "How do you even know Chip?" "I don't. I just saw you shared a byline and then I followed him on Twitter and then...never mind." I looked at him warily. "You were saying something about a Jeep." I took a breath. "Chip told me that I should tell his parents how much he loved them if anything happened. And I realized that if anything happened to me, I wanted you to know that I had loved you." I bit my lip. "I mean, I didn't even know that, I don't think. I loved you but I told myself I didn't. And I believed that I didnt. Until I thought about, if I die right now, he wouldn't know that I loved him and I do. I never let it show. But I loved you." My voice wavered. "Sometimes -most of the time, actually, I still think I do." I snuck another look at him. "I dont want to be your friend, because Im in love with you. I bit my lip. I

know, you're probably completely over it, but I thought you should know. "I'm not over it," he said automatically. I was quiet. "I meant it. I love you. I still love you and not just most of the time. All of the time," he said. He looked so serious, it was hard to believe we'd just admitted it to one another. "Okay," I said. "Okay," he said. He smiled first. "So maybe we should pick up back where we started? Same rules?" I shook my head. "I was thinking....I would really, really like to have dinner with you." Jack threw his head back and laughed, a happy laugh, a sound of relief. I got up to my feet and for some reason, when I blinked, I was crying. He walked towards me, grabbed me by my wrists and pulled me close. "No way," he whispered, teasingly. "Shut up." He kissed me softly. So, dinner? I said, trying to keep my voice from wavering. He smiled. He kissed me again, briefly, barely at all. I dont know, he teased. What about your rules? "C'mon." He smiled and kissed me for a third time.

I pulled my mouth away. Yes or no?" "Ask me out again?" "Don't push your luck," I said. "I might have to think about it," he said, laughing. "Have dinner with me," I said. Yes, he said. I should leave you hanging longer, but, yes, I will have dinner with you. He kissed me again, pressing me against the wall. Anywhere, anytime, you can take me to dinner." I smiled and grabbed his wrists. Good. He nodded. He kissed my forehead, his lips shaking ever so slightly. Good. I closed my eyes again and he braced himself against the wall with his hands and kissed me again. His mouth was warm and we'd left the lights on and he turned me, walking me backwards towards the couch. He bit my lip and I broke the kiss and caught my breath. "Maybe we could start with breakfast, though," he said. "You free tomorrow?" "I could move some things around," I said. "Oh, yeah?" I nodded. "Yeah."

Chapter Fifty-One
In the end, he picked the restaurant and he insisted on coming all the way uptown just to go all the way back downtown with me. "You have too many stairs," he said. "Fact." "We could've just met at the restaurant," I said, opening the door. "You could just move." "Mmm...maybe you can carry all my boxes for me?" He raised his eyebrows. "Ask me that when I've had a chance to recover." I smiled. "Let's go." "Oh, back down the stairs? Right after I came up?" I laughed. "I told you that we should've met at the restaurant." "I had to pick you up for our first date." We got into a cab and headed down to the West Village. "How was school?" "Crazy. Kids are psychotic. I had the kindergarteners today. I wasn't impressed. Not too bright." I smiled, imagining Jack surrounded by five-yearolds. "Junessa said that I was spelling my name wrong." "Jack?" "No, Mr. Diamond."

"They call you Mr. Diamond?" "It's disturbing, I know," Jack said. "She said I was spelling Diamond wrong because it needed to have sparkles. And I told her, you know, sparkles isn't actually a letter, and she started crying." "Oh, God. What did you do?" "I told her I'd made a huge mistake and that sparkles was definitely a letter. The kindergarten teacher was like, please dont ever talk about the alphabet again. I laughed and took a long second to stare at Jack, really stare at him. He was so damn handsome. "What?" "Nothing," I said smiling. I bit my lip. "Were going on a real date." He nodded. "You freaking out?" "No," I said. I smiled and shook my head. "Well, kind of. But not about being on a date with you." What are you freaking out about then? I laughed. Everything else. Although, strangely, I wasnt. Knowing he was here. Knowing that I could call himit made everything that had seemed so hard seem a little bit easier. I leaned against his shoulders. This is going to work, right? I asked. He nodded. Affirmative.

I brought him back home with me. I let him feel me shivering when the sirens started as we climbed the stairs. What do you need? he asked softly. He put a hand on my lower back, as I braced one hand against the wall. You said you had Xanax? I nodded. Upstairs. I can walk. I didnt want this to happen in front of him. I didnt want to seem like a total fucking head case in front of him. He nodded. Put your hands on top of your head. What? Put your hands on top of your head. It helps with the breathing. I looked at him. My mom, he said. She gets panic attacks. He smiled, he took my hand. Did I ever tell you about my pet pig? I shook my head. So, when I was younger, I read Charlottes Web, he said. We had reached the landing of the staircase. And I was kind of obsessed with Wilbur. We were living in the city at the time. Not exactly the kind of place where you can see farm animals. But, my dad took me out to New Jersey one day. And there was an organic pig farm. He smiled. You know, happy little pigs. And we were on the tour and they were showing us the baby pigs and there was a tiny one named Twister and the farmer giving us the tour said sort of dismissively that

Twister was not likely to live to maturity and I asked what that meant. He smiled. And my dad, I could tell, right away, he wanted to punch this farmer in the jaw for telling me that the baby pig was not likely to live to maturity. But he told me it meant the pig would die. He had reached my couch and sat me down and locked my door. He kept talking as he walked to the bathroom and took down the Xanax and brought me a glass of water. So, I had a meltdown and my dad couldnt take it so he asked the farmer how much the pig would cost him. He smiled. I think he shelled out like three hundred dollars. And you had a pet pig? He smiled. He handed me the water and the pill. And I had a pet pig. I looked at him. I felt fine. I felt calm. I dont need it. He smiled slightly, like he was proud of himself. How did you do that? I asked. He shrugged. Um, I dont know. I got good at distracting my mom when she was getting upset. He smiled. She liked when I talked about Twister. A pig named Twister. He nodded. Ive got the pictures. I want to see them. He smiled. He kissed me lightly.

Are you really freaked out? He looked at me. About what? Me. He shook his head. Why would I be freaked out? Because Ive turned into kind of a head case. He shook his head. He wrapped an arm around me. Im not freaked out. I smiled. He ran his hands down my body. Youre gorgeous, he said. He smiled. And I love you. And Im a head case. He kissed me. Im sorry, I said throatily. For what? For being selfish, I said. You did what you needed to do. I shook my head. I hurt you. He bit his lip. Yeah. My eyes filled. But I was being an idiot, he said. No, you told me you loved me. And it was all I wanted to hear. But I pretended it wasnt. I convinced myself I wasnt. Because I thoughtI dont know. I keep trying to figure out what I was trying to protect myself from and it doesnt make any sense. Listen. We were both young. We both still are.

No, we both made promises to ourselves when we were young. Right? he looked at me. They had a lot to do with our parents, right? I saw my Moms life shatter because she married someone with a dangerous job who couldnt give it up. And I said, Im never going to do that to my wife and Im never going to fall for a girl that would do that to me. He met my eyes. And you promised yourself you were never going to give anything up for love, because it never worked out for your parents. You promised yourself you wouldnt fall in love, basically. But I fell for the girl with a dangerous job and you fell in love and we both decided we needed to keep these stupid promises we made to ourselves when were kids instead of growing up and realizing, things arent that black and white. Right, I said. I nodded. But you Im sorry. He said. If Id listened to you, I wouldnt have pushed you so hard so fast. But I wanted to know after two months whether youd give up your dream for me. And when you hesitated, I wouldnt compromise. I fucked up, too. This is not on you. I shook my head. Yeah, it is. Its on both of us. He grabbed my hands and laced our fingers together. And I dont care, because we fixed it, right? He looked at me. We fixed it? I smiled. Jack, this is still kind of a mess.

Right. But we know that now, he smiled back. I mean shit happens. Bad shit happens. To everyone. He met my eyes steadily. We both thought we could avoid it. But nobody does. You know? And we shouldnt hurt ourselves in the meantime. I nodded. He pushed his forehead to mine. Were going to be okay. Yeah. I nodded. Youre going to be okay. I smiled. Yeah. He pulled me into his lap and I wrapped my legs around his waist and kissed him hard. I love you, I said again. It had been scary the first time. Unpleasantly scary, but it wasnt now. I wanted to say it. I wanted to keep saying it. I love you, I love you, I love you. He laughed. I know. I love you too. I kissed him again. I knew that saying I loved him wasnt going to break me this time. I knew it would save me. He kissed the top of my head. I was afraid, I said. You dont have to explain. I was afraid that if showed that I loved you, I would end up getting hurt and feeling stupid. So, I did the opposite. And I ended up getting hurt and feeling stupid. I know, he said. You really dont have to

explain, Hadley. Its okay. Im not afraid though. Of letting it show anymore. Im not afraid of letting my love show. Im afraid of not showing it, I said. It turned out to be easy to let it go. That once I started, I couldnt really stop. I loved the way he laughed, the way his hair stuck up in the morning, how he cocked his head when he was looking at me. I loved how sweet he could be, and how sure he was. I loved how he talked to people, like they were the center of the world. I loved that he noticed me. I loved that he knew me better than I knew myself. I loved that he had put it out there back in March, when he was pretty sure I was going to shoot him down. I loved that he never told me to smile or to stop being so serious. I loved the way he held my wrist and kissed the palm of my hand. I loved that after all that time of thinking love wasnt safe, I realized that I had never been safer than I was, curled in my tiny apartment in Harlem, with Jack Diamond, the person I was madly in love with. I loved him. I was going to let it show forever.

Epilogue
Jack, Seven Months Later We are not getting a Mastiff, Hadley said. Why not? I like him. And hes a puppy. Because we live in New York. And Im going to be the one who ends up walking it in the morning, she said. I dont need as much exercise as a mastiff. I looked over at her and smiled. A mastiff would look good on our couch. I want a mutt, Hadley said. I want a small mutt with an anxiety disorder who speaks Arabic to keep you company when Im in Jordan. Soon shed be leaving for three weeks to go to a Syrian Refugee camp just across the Jordanian border. It would be her second trip. Shed gone for just five days a few months back and written an article that just about everyone in America had read. And this time, she wasnt scared to go. The refugee camps were stable. People were suffering there, but they were safe. Hadley wouldnt be in danger of dying. After Hadley had walked away the night of our formal, Xander said she was the worlds most emotionless bitch. At the time, I had wished I could agree with him. But even then, when I wanted to hate her, I knew nothing could be further from the truth. Hadley saw everyones suffering clearly. She saw it perfectly. And she knew how to write about it. She gave

it a name and a face and a story you could understand. David and I might have been the only people who really saw that part of her in college. But when you read her articles, you knew. I laughed. I dont want Hadley 2. I want a mastiff. She shook her head and walked further into the animal shelter. Wed just signed a lease together on an apartment in north Chelsea. It was on the eighth floor and the building didnt have an elevator. The bedroom was microscopic. But it had a kitchen you could use and a decent view. It was only a few steps away from the subway and it was ours. And Hadley wasnt freaked out about that at all. Her phone rang and she pressed it to her ear. David! I could hear his laughter through the phone and I walked up behind her and kissed the soft part of her neck and she smiled and elbowed me in the hip. She pointed at a nervous looking dog that was sitting in the corner of its cage. I smiled at the dog. She looked terrified, and I gripped the front of my cage with my fingers. Hey, girl, I said to her. She had a white medallion on her chest and curly speckled ears and black fur and big mournful eyes. The placard on her cage said she was about two years old and

shy, but housebroken. Were getting a dog, Hadley told David. Yes, seriously.No, I know. Its insanewell, he wants a mastiff, but thats not happening She laughed. But, yeah, I get back at the end of May, so any time after that is great for usthe apartment is the size of a postage stamp, but you both will fit. I looked down at the shy mutt and smiled at her, trying to coax her out of the corner. Hey, I said again, smiling when she approached my hand cautiously. She nuzzled up against my hand and sat down. Hadley ended her phone call with David. Dont you like her? she asked me. I do like her, I said. Is David coming to visit? She nodded. Yeah. In June. Justin, too. Thatll be fun. Yeah. You like her, too, right? I asked, nodding at the dog. Hadley smiled. Yeah, shes adorable. Do you want to get her? I asked. Yeah. Only if youre sure, though. She leaned her head on my shoulder. I thought you wanted the mastiff. No. Shes perfect, I said. Dont you think? Yeah, Hadley said softly. What do you think about Avery? I asked.

Avery. I like that, Hadley said, wrapping her fingers around mine. She put her hand up against the cage too. Hey, Avery. The dog turned her attention to Hadley and I smiled. She likes you. I like her too, Hadley said. She looked up at me. Lets get her, I said. I met her shining eyes and she mouthed the words Id gotten used to hearing: I love you.

Table of Contents
LOVE SHOW Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-Four Chapter Thirty-Five Chapter Thirty-Six Chapter Thirty-Seven Chapter Thirty-Eight Chapter Thirty-Nine Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-One Chapter Forty-Two Chapter Forty-Three Chapter Forty-Four Chapter Forty-Five Chapter Forty-Six Chapter Forty-Seven Chapter Forty-Eight Chapter Forty-Nine Chapter Fifty Chapter Fifty-One

Epilogue