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Chapter 8

Chapter 8

"Why are you following me to my car?" I finally spin around to face her, accepting the fact that ignoring her only encourages her. I thought she would have left with Max and Bell.

"What was that about?" She asks, answering me with a question of her own.

"What was what about?" I play the dumb card.

She sends me a flat look. "Well, if it was nothing, as usual, then my boyfriend won't mind dropping me off at the park."

"We're not a thing," I clarify, turning my back to her as I open my car.

"Seriously?" AJ complains in fury. "Back to this again? You've got issues, Ben." She sighs helplessly. "Just tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help you?"

"Look," I get in my car, keeping my door open, "I don't feel like talking about it."

"You told me that your last relationship ended badly. Does Oliver have something to do with that?" She asks, more than just a little bit curious.

"Yup!" I answer hastily before slamming my car door shut.

"Benjy!" She knocks on the window. "We're not done talking."

"Oh, but I think we are." I rev my engine to get the hint across.

It's then that she throws herself in front of my car. "I'm not moving until you take me to the park."

I mutter a curse beneath my breath before throwing open the passenger seat door for her. "Get the hell in."

She grins from ear to ear before taking her time to get in, unintentionally annoying me further. "Take a left at the next stop."

"I live around here, stupid. I know where the park is," I grumble, not in the mood. "Why do you go there anyway?"

"I feed the ducks in the pond," she answers calmly as if she's a normal person – far from it. "Want to come?"

I flinch, quickly hiding my reaction. "No."

Hey!" She suddenly smiles, unfazed by my expected refusal. "Remember when I was driving your car? That was a fun day."

I take my eyes off the road to shoot her an 'are you serious' glare. "You stole my car."

She was, in fact, helping me...but I'd rather die than admit that to her.

"You stole my heart. I think it's safe to call us even."

I scoff in disbelief. "Again with that sappy nonsense."

"You know, Benley..." she pauses in thought, "I'm not even sure why I like you. I'm really not. You're actually kind of a jerk."

I wince. It's because I only let her see this side to me, this ugly side filled with fear and distrust.

Silence floating between us, I wordlessly pull over next to the park.

I avoid her eyes but hear her open the door.

"I'm sorry."

The words slip from my mouth before I can stop them.

"Me too," she replies in sincerity. "I'm sorry that you were hurt. I really am. You, of all people, didn't deserve that. But I'm not sorry that I'm sold out on you. I'm not sorry that I'm a sucker for you. I should be, but I'm really not."

Taken aback and unable to form a coherent sentence, I watch in defeat as she leaves my car.

A painful pull at my chest has me all antsy. I need to stay away from this girl.

Still, I can't help but look at her dark hair blowing in the wind as she takes a seat on the grass. She smiles brightly at the sight before her – the sun setting over the pond as the ducks glide upon the water's surface toward her, curious.

AJ has this natural aura about her that draws all living things to her, including me. I sense it about her. It's fricken beautiful.

A smile touches my lips when she takes out a packet of bread from her bag. She says something to the ducks before tossing bread pieces into the water.

Of course, she talks to birds...

The ducks quack loudly, splashing noiselessly as if in appreciation. They dive under water, past each other, to get to the bread.

Content, AJ throws her head back and laughs, looking nothing short of an angel under the soft glow of the sun as it starts to fade behind the hills.

I shake my head to myself and start my car. If I don't leave now, I won't be leaving at all.

She's right. I am afraid.

"Ben, how many kids do you want when we get married?" Bex asks me, her brown eyes bright and happy.

"Two, maybe three. I don't know." I shrug, staring out at the pond before us, barely able to keep my gaze off of her beautiful face. "So long as it's with you."

A smile crosses my girlfriend's face. "It will be."

I shake the memory, wishing to forget it.

I'm afraid that if I start opening up and showing the real me, I'm going to be crushed again. I don't have it within me to go through another downward spiral. But the logical, rational side of me knows that AJ is nothing like Bex.

With AJ, it can be real. I know that with certainty and that's the terrifying part.

I don't think I'll ever be willing to take a chance on anyone.

Bex, that cheating ogre, really did a number on me. Because of her, I can't seem to pull myself from this slump of distrust. The last thing I want to do, is drag AJ down into it too.

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