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Chapter Sixteen

Justin and I acquired many stares as we walked hand in hand down the hall. People openly gazed at us with speculation and clear shock, whispering amongst themselves but I didn’t care at all. I felt like I was floating around, very liable to meander off but Justin’s steady grip anchors me. I wouldn’t trade this moment with him for the world.

Unsurprisingly, the girls were waiting for my at my locker, most likely gossiping about the same old drama that goes on around here. Once someone’s dirty laundry is loitering around it becomes the main topic of conversation in these halls. Entertainment comes in all forms I guess.

“What are you two doing?” Lou asks dubiously, as she, along with Jasmine and Amiyah, stare at Justin and I as if we’ve contracted the plague and are hell bent on spreading it.

“Going to my locker so I can get my textbook for my next class?” I raise an eyebrow at her as I take my hand gently from Justin’s, walking in front of my locker. They part for me as if I’m Moses and I begin unlocking my locker, biting my lip to refrain from smiling at their astounded expressions.

“I assembled all three of us to confront you since you disappeared on everyone for lunch and to push you into his arms,” Lou points accusingly at Justin, “but then you both waltz up here holding hands and I just-” She pauses momentarily before her blue eyes widen again as a grin so large and wicked curls onto her lips.

“YOU BITCH!” She shouts, punching my shoulder, still smiling like a ginger maniac.

“What the hell Lou?” I curse, staring at her incredulously as I rub the sore spot given to me by the surprisingly strong girl who dresses lavishly and perfects her makeup down to the last brush stroke.

She’s absolutely bonkers.

“Are you okay?” Justin asks, worry coating his expression as he takes my thick textbook to hold it as he rubs my shoulder, causing shivers to run down my spine.

Everything about him is too good; his looks, his mind, his touch, his lips…

“Awh!” All three girls gush and I blush furiously.

“My ship has sailed,” Lou dramatically grabs her heart while fanning herself.

“Please stop!” I groan. “It’s seriously no big deal. We talked, I’m getting my stuff, and now he’s going to walk me to class,” I slam my locker shut.

“And here I thought you’d avoid him like your life depended on it,” Jasmine teases.

“So are you guys together or..?” Amiyah finally asks the question they were all probably dying to know. Lou actually leans forward in anticipation and I can’t help but laugh at her serious expression. She looked as if they answer would determine the fate of her first born child.

“We’re friends,” I say simply, because we were that. And we were way more than that. But at this moment of time we were friends who were gonna work on the potential to be more.

“For now,” Justin has to add in, wrapping his arms around my waist from behind, the textbook being pressed firmly into my stomach where butterflies roamed freely.

I quickly steer Justin away from them, not wanting to deal with explanations or unnecessary complications. This situation was delicate enough without other people’s input. Besides, for now it made sense to us. And that’s what matters.

The girls will corner me again eventually and demand a detailed explanation, but I wanted to focus on Justin right now. He’s right when he says we need to take things slow, because feelings alone won’t make a relationship work. We needed time, but as long as he’s mine at the end of it all I had no problem waiting as we worked on ourselves.

Outside of my class Justin turns to face me and I smile goofily. This felt so crazy and surreal. Not even an hour ago I was so pissed off at him and hurt but now… Now all of my senses were being driven crazy by him in the best way.

“The look on their faces were priceless,” Justin says, chuckling, eliciting a few giggles from me as well.

“They’re going to give me hell. Especially Lou,” I groan, laughing with him.

“You’re probably right. There’s no deterring Lou though. When she wants or want to know something she’ll find out by any means possible.”

“Do you even want to know the amount of times she tries to convince me to jump and ravish you?” I ask, immediately hating my big fat mouth as I realize what I just said.

Now I, a writer, am saying all the wrong things in the most unarticulated manner ever.

When Justin and I first met I unintentionally had so much to say to him. So many smart aleck comments and philosophes. I kept him on his toes and threw words his way to keep him spinning.

Who’s spinning now though?

“How often do you think about ravishing me?” He asks, hooking his arms around my waist and pulling me flush against him. I don’t think my face has ever been this hot before or my breathing this sluggish. He’s smirking again, loving to tease the hell out of me apparently. There’s nowhere to look but straight at him. I clear my throat.

“Of course not,” I croak.

“Mhm,” He says, unconvinced before releasing me. Taking a deep breath, I attempt to stand tall and appear unaffected.

He can see right through you and you know it.

“Come over after school today. I want to hang out just us for a change,” He says earnestly, and I almost immediately agree to his plans.

“I’d love to.”

“Good. See you at your locker after eighth period?”

“I’ll see you then Justin.” I enter my classroom, absolutely giddy while excitement burns through my veins at being with Justin again after school.

These last few periods can’t fly by fast enough.


I smile at my eighth period teacher in gratitude as I take the bathroom pass from her hand. I thought I could wait until the period was over but I’ve been holding it in for a while now and it feels like I might burst. I shut the classroom door behind me quietly and meander down the hallway.

It’s always so startling to see how empty the halls are during class. You get so used to having to fight and push your way through people that it’s strange to see the emptiness and bare feeling the halls encompassed because of a lack in movement and people.

It’s surreal to think that in six months I may never step foot in these halls ever again. And maybe a year ago I wouldn’t have missed this place at all. But so much has changed since then. And I’m glad to say I’ll be leaving this place a different and better person than who I was when I first stepped foot in this building almost four years ago.

Entering the girl’s restroom I sigh, entering a stall and doing my business. After flushing the toilet, I unlock the cubicle, making my way to a sink before someone else’s blatant presence caused me to stop short.

Amy.

My shoulders stiffen as I straighten my back, choosing to ignore her presence as I turn on the faucet, dipping my fingers into the water to test the temperature. The tension surrounding us though was already filled with enough heat.

“You made quite the spectacle Saturday,” She says spitefully, her cold blue eyes flickering with indignant pride as her dark pink lips smirked cruelly. I flinch at her words, hating the fact that despite everything Justin and I had and hadn’t discussed her words still had the same effect she wanted.

“The same could be said about yourself. It’s not a nice look flinging yourself at your ex who broke things off because he clearly wanted to be rid of you,” I say, ditching all efforts to be civil at this point. I was tired of her elaborate schemes. First Saturday, then whatever this confrontation was right here. ANd that’s not to mention all the times she’d stare evilly at me whenever I was around Justin as if I was encroaching on her territory. Well Justin belonged to himself and could choose to be with whomever he wanted.

And if she wasn’t his choice she better damn well learn how to be okay with that fact.

“That is rich coming from you!” She laughs, and it would be beautiful laugh because despite how much I disliked her there was no denying how attractive she was. Not a strand of her perfectly impeccable blonde hair was out of place in the waves of it cascading down her back. Despite how icy and calculated they were when regarding me, her azure eyes were like a beautiful, icy storm. She had a gorgeous face and a fit body to match. But her nasty behavior shrouded it all.

“You really think he wants you? He’ll realize soon enough you’re nothing. I kept asking myself what he could possibly see in you. I’ll admit you’re not hideous, you’re pretty enough in a meek, plain way. I pondered the idea that you guys were fucking but I know Justin’s not one to engage in something that casual. Then most of it started to piece together,” She began to pace around before circling me like I was her prey and she was determined to pounce. I started to think about how ridiculous this was, like a scene in a movie where the protagonist is cornered in a bathroom defenseless. I had half a midn to speak up and repeat the not so nice words Lou had screamed at her on Saturday. But I surprised myself by wanting to hear what she had to say.

“You’re his new challenge. He’s intrigued. Justin’s always liked a good chase. But let me tell you one thing,” She suddenly stopped and got less than an inch away from my face and my fists clenched as I had enough of her bullshit.

“You have five seconds to get out of my face,” I hiss, my hazel eyes narrowing at her. She must of heard the serious and angry undercurrent in my voice because she backed up slightly.

“I know you don’t like me Lilly, and I sure as hell don’t like you. But take me seriously when I say this; he’ll only break your heart. That’s all he ever does. He’ll lead you on, pulling you by a thread before it snaps. And you’ll be left frayed.” I was suddenly pissed again. Who the hell does she think she is?

“What’s your problem? Why are you playing these games, toying around and sticking your nose in Justin’s life? If you ever loved him you’d leave him alone and want him to be happy,” I snap.

“Nothing is ever enough for him though. I wasn’t this perfect, flawless person he thought I was and when he realized that it was over before it started. Justin’s genuinely a good guy but he doesn’t always know what he wants. And despite it all I really hope he doesn’t leave you the same mess he left me. I wouldn’t wish heartbreak on even my proclaimed enemy,” She smiles a wry, heartbroken smile. And I suddenly realize the coldness in her eyes was actually sadness. Her heart was broken by Justin, unintentionally it seems, but broken shards all look the same nonetheless. And even though this whole ordeal was confusing as hell, I see now it was probably easier for her to hate me than anything else.

“I’m not sure why you told me all of that,” I say quietly, continuing to regard her and her beautiful, strong exterior began to crumble.

“I’m not sure either to be honest,” She laughs humorlessly. “I try too hard to hang on to Justin and in the end that’s what drove him away. I’m just warning you now. History doesn’t have to repeat itself,” We stare at each other for a moment longer before she finally walks out of the restroom, leaving an echoing silence in her wake.

Wow.

Sighing, I finish washing my hands before scurrying back to class, realizing I was gone way longer than I should have been. Sitting back at my desk, I’m unable to erase Amy’s words from my memory. That confrontation that started in a very cliche and teenage movie way ended with harsh revealing truths and realities. The reality of heartbreak and putting your trust into someone and hoping desperately that they won’t destroy you.

It almost felt like lunch had never happened, because I’m back to simmering in my old fears that nearly drowned me before having lunch with Justin in the library today. I decided, briefly, to let them go and to give in to these tumultuous emotions thrashing inside of me. But they haven’t completely disappeared and now they’re being fed by new fears.

What if Justin unveils every part of me and doesn’t like what he sees? What if he changes his mind? About me? About us, whatever we are or whatever we might become?

God why do these thoughts have to have such tight reign over me? There won’t ever be an ‘us’ if I don’t learn to trust him. And lord knows I trust him so much already, with almost everything. I know he cares for me and would protect me from harm.

But will I ever surrender myself to him completely and trust him with my heart?

I won’t ever know unless I give him a chance. Give us a chance.

The ringing of the bell to dismiss everyone from school interrupts my conflicted thoughts and I stand along with everyone else, packing up my stuff into my school bag. I exit the classroom, walking to my locker and smiling fondly at the view of Justin leant against it as he waited for me. He was alluring, smiling as I approached. I unlocked my locker and he nudged me out of the way, taking my books and putting them on the metal shelf. The locker slams when he hits his palm against it’s cool surface, and before I know it he gently shoves my back against it, his arms encasing me, palms flat on the locker’s surface beside my head. He leans down, invading my space and I gladly welcome it.

“I missed you,” He mumbled, his eyes bright and earnest. My stomach flutters and I bite my lip to stop a stupid grin from splitting my face. I don’t think he had any idea how his words made me feel. He was effortlessly charming and a shameless flirt and it twisted up my insides.

“You saw me a couple of hours ago,” I laugh.

“So?” He asks gruffly, his hands slipping off the locker only to slide up and down my sides. I soundlessly gasp, my eyes closing on their own accord and my flesh begins a slow burn. He makes me hot all over.

He grips my hips tightly, one hand slightly tugging my hair to pull my head up to stare at him. His gaze was scorching, taking every inch of me in. I analyze his features, appreciative of his sharp jawline that lightly grazed my skin, his tousled brown hair my hands wanted to get lost in and yank on, his piercing green eyes, his sloped nose and I frowned at the absence of his scattered freckles that were no longer visible, and finally my eyes linger and settle on his plump, full lips that I remember vividly pressed against my neck. Justin slants his head down, and my eyes flutter close as I await his lips to finally crash against mine. But the warmth of his body leaves me and my eyes snap open.

“Slow remember?” he says quietly, and I’d be inclined to think that he didn’t want to kiss me at all but I can see the clear longing and want in his eyes.

“I don’t want to our first kiss to be in a hallway clustered with loud, sweaty people,” Justin says, grabbing my hand and toting me forward and down the hall. My face burns with heat at his words and I smile bashfully. He was too much sometimes but he’s insanely sweet despite the torturous teasing. As we walk hand in hand to the student parking lot, my gaze is caught by Amy as she raises her eyebrows at me, a clear unspoken message in her eyes. I brush her look off though and look forward, desperate to leave the confusion and doubt in the past.

Once we’re settled in his car Justin drives off, and I’m suddenly a bit nervous to be hanging with him at his place. I know I’ve been there before with him but things have changed since then. I don’t know what we’ll be doing exactly but I trust Justin that it won’t be anything neither of us aren’t ready for. Hell, he’s the one adamant about going slow and is yet to kiss me properly. I’m just being silly.

I relax finally, slouching in the passenger seat and laughing at Justin who was singing along to a catchy pop song on the radio. Quite typically, his car was littered with the usual trash of fast food wrappers, papers, and plastic cups. He also had various CDs and albums clustered in a heap on the floor and I reach down to grab a few flicking through the artists and smiling in pleasant shock. He had great music taste.

“Your taste in music has made you insanely more attractive just so you know,” I quip, fighting back a blush as he laughs with a stupid grin on his face.

“So you admit you find me attractive?” He asks cheekily, turning onto his street. I scoff at his blatantness, choosing to answer him indirectly. Of course I’d walked straight into that one.

“I’ve never said you weren’t attractive.”

“So I am attractive then?”

“Justin your ego is suffocating me,” I complain, relieved when he finally parked in his driveway.

“You just don’t want to admit the truth. That’s okay though. I know I’m insanely attractive.”

“Justin Grey if you do not stop I’m making you take me home!” I laugh, opening the car door and running to the front door to escape his laughter and teasing words.

“I was just playing with you,” He murmurs, his arms moving around me to unlock his door. I walk inside carefully, hyper aware of mine and his every step.

“So does that mean you’re actually not attractive?”

“Lilly Alvarado, take that back,” He rumbles and I gasp when I’m suddenly against one of his living room walls, his body trapping mine. Shocked, my eyes widen as I stare at him helplessly. I try to wiggle away from him but it’s damn near impossible. He’s trapped me.

The wall behind me is painted a light, creamy color, and my sock clad feet are sunk into the plush white carpet below me. I glance at my shoes I slipped off by Justin’s door, regretful I wasn’t still wearing them. They’d add pain to his shin when I kicked his crazy self for shoving me up against the wall like some barbarian.

“Justin let me go!” I push against his chest futilely, annoyed that I can’t even move him. Damn those muscles.

“Admit it Lilly. You want me,” One of his hands move from being pressed against the wall beside my head to resting on my hip. I lift my head up, eyes meeting his challengingly.

“I want you to let go of me and quite possibly check yourself into a mental asylum,” I hiss, trying to be angry but he’s warm and although I’m most confessing anything out loud the boy knows he’s damn attractive.

“You’d miss me too much if I did that babe,” Justin’s head turns slightly, and his moist breaths land delicately on my neck. I shudder, my mind suddenly blank. I can’t concentrate or have legible thoughts when he’s so close to me.

“Babe?” I mutter the question, quirking an eyebrow. He shrugs.

“Thought I’d try it out.”

“You’re very odd, did you know that?” I ask, smiling softly at him. I can’t imagine how we must of looked, him pressing me against a wall in his living room and us just talking casually and sending smiles each other’s way.

“You love it though,” and before I could deny it or possibly tell the truth, damn right I do, the front door swings open and his mom and Charlotte stroll in, before stopping abruptly.

“Justin!” His mom exclaims, surprise and shock coloring her face. He immediately backs away from me and I want to scoff. Here I was (previously) trying to push him away and all it takes is the sight of his mother for him to spring away from me.

“Um, hey mom. I brought Lilly over so we could hangout,” He says, looking sheepish. Her eyebrows raise.

“Well I’m glad to hear that if it means you’ll stop moping around the house and staring at your phone as if it’ll explode,” He blushes and I feel giddy because finally he’s on the receiving end of embarrassment instead of me between the two of us.

“Okay mom. We’re going to my room,” He tries to shuffle be as quick as possible past them and I laugh at his antics.

“You know the rules mister! Door open, if you play music keep it down, and invite the poor girl to stay for dinner you goof!” I laugh in mirth as Justin almost shoves me upstairs.

“I officially love your mom.”

“Good, you can have her.”

“Justin!” I exclaim, hitting his chest softly. “That’s your mom. Be nice. Guys who are rude to their moms turn out to be assholes. Fact,” I say, entering his room when he pushes the door open.

“Oh really? You sure it’s not just speculation?” He teases, laughing as I roll my eyes.

“Trust me. If a guy has no respect for his mother, he won’t have any respect for you. That’s what my mother told me once and I wish I would’ve listen to her.”

Sometimes when I look back to when I should’ve noticed the signs in the type of person Bryce was, I always go back to the first time I ever went to his place. He thought no one was home and I was extremely nervous and excited to be alone with him. But he was surprised, and to be frank, pissed when he found out his mom was home. She seemed nice enough that first time we met, asking me all kinds of questions and offering for me to stay for dinner.

But Bryce was livid. He began screaming at her, his eyes dark and wild, curses trailing off his lips like a prayer. I remember how sad his mom was, the tears filled to the brim in her eyes. He ended up taking me home, apologizing about how much of a bitch his mother was. I should’ve known it then. I should’ve stopped talking to him immediately, cut off all ties. But I didn’t.

Because in the beginning all I could see was how sweet he was to me, and he fed me stories of his mother’s neglect and the shitty childhood he had. I excused his behavior for so long because I figured he didn’t know any better. He had never been loved before. And I was so determined to love him and show him the affection his life had lacked. But he just took, took, took, and continued taking from me until I had nothing left to give. And my love was never enough for Bryce.

It’s hard to love someone who doesn’t know how to be loved.

“Let’s hope you won’t ever have to heed her advice again then,” Justin says gently, taking my hand and leading us to his bed. I flop on it surface, spreading my limbs out. I smile at him and yank his covers over me.

“Your bed is comfy,” I mumble. He laughs and I smile as he leaves his door open before joining me. Good. I like a guy who listens.

“So,” I say.

“So,” He repeats, lying on top of the covers right beside me.

“I kind of sort of ran into Amy today. It was a whole bathroom showdown ambush thing too. Minus her evil possy standing guard behind her. And minus my supposed to be scared and pathetic reaction,” I blurt out, cringing. Damn my big mouth.

“Are you fucking kidding me? God I don’t know what’s gotten into her,” he groans, rubbing his face roughly in frustration.

“I think I know,” I mumble wistfully. He rolls over towards me, confusion clear and plain on his face. I search for those freckles that I love once again, but they probably won’t make a reappearance until spring or summer.

“What do you mean?” His eyebrows crinkle and I use my index finger to smooth the crease between them. Even his eyebrows were perfect. Damn.

“She still loves you. Whether it’s a pure or healthy love is up for debate, but it’s love nonetheless. You can’t help who you fall in love with,” I say quietly, playing with his calloused fingers.

“But what if that person changes into someone you don’t know? Does it make you a selfish person if you can’t love the person they’ve become?” Justin asks, vulnerability coating his words and smothering the space between us. I lean up on my elbows to face him, pondering his words.

“No. I don’t believe it does. Just like you can’t help who you fall in love with, you can’t help falling out of love.” Straightening, I sit up fully on his bed, slightly turning my body so I could see him. Biting my lip, I debate speaking the words on the tip of my tongue. I’m not sure this is a line I’m ready to cross. I’m not sure if he or I could handle it.

“Tell me about her. Amy I mean. What she meant to you. And I’ll tell you about Bryce,” My breath hitches as I wait for him to answer me, that crease between his eyebrows making a reoccurrence.

“Who’s Bryce?” He finally asks, looking so serious and cute that I can’t help but laugh.

“Well you would find that out if we have this conversation,” I tease, trying to calm my nerves. When his face remained pensive I conceded.

“He’s my ex. You’ll talk about Amy, I have Bryce to discuss and we can let go of any extra baggage from those two. Then we can talk about ourselves and get to know basic things about each other. Favorite color, food, movie- you catch my drift,” I say, hopeful that he understands where I’m coming from and doesn’t write off my ideas as inane and pointless.

“Okay. Sounds good to me, and now I’m insanely curious about this Bryce person,” He laughs and I join him feebly.

“Trust me he’s not someone you want to become acquainted with,” I mumble. We’re quiet for a moment before he speaks up.

“Okay. So. Amy,” He says.

“Amy,” I repeat.

“Where do I even begin?” His lips are quirked, his features lit with thoughtfulness.

“The beginning,” I say helpfully. He grins at me and my heart flutters.

“Right. So you know her and I began dating sophomore year. We met through mutual friends and frequently saw one another at parties. We always were friendly to each other before we really began flirting. When I asked her out and she said yes, I remember being so shocked yet happy. I never thought a girl like Amy would like me.”

“What did you like about her?” I ask, not being able to hold back my curiosity despite feeling tense at his answer. It can’t ever be easy hearing the guy you’re falling for talk about his relationship with his first love. But I feel like it’ll help me know him better, and after Amy’s actions Saturday I don’t want her to be this unspeakable elephant between us. And if I’m asking him to talk about Amy, then he deserves to know about Bryce.

“I can’t deny that I was first attracted by her looks. It’s one of the main reasons I stayed away in the beginning actually. I was intimidated by her and I didn’t think I had a chance.

But then as we began talking I fell for her heart. You may not believe me, but the Amy I knew had the biggest heart with a large capacity to love. She used to have a way of making you feel happy and feel as if you belonged. Being with her was easy. It was nice. In the beginning it didn’t take much work or effort and we just clicked. But when we started having real problems and arguments, I wasn’t willing to truly try and work it out. I didn’t want to fight for mine and her relationship.

And I can’t blame her for becoming too possessive of me in the end. I was at the point where I didn’t care enough. I had this preconceived image of her, and when she didn’t reach that pedestal I shrouded her with it felt like she was a completely different person. She had more hate in her than I could’ve ever seen, and negative views and opinions clouded her judgement. We suddenly disagreed on everything, and the person I once thought was so welcoming and cheerful was filled with malice and a judging, critical eye.

I didn’t want difficult. Hell I wasn’t prepared for difficult. No one ever tells you about the cracking your bones suffer when you fall for someone. They just romanticized being suspended in air on the way down. But our problems crushed me. And I just wasn’t willing to handle that. Amy was the one fighting when I had already given up.”

You could tell how bittersweet the words tasted on his tongue. I was surprised to not feel jealous of the way he spoke about Amy. He didn’t say her name with the profoundness you would expect someone to utter the name of their first love. He just sounded regretful about the way things fell apart and his contribution to those broken pieces.

“She was so judgemental towards people over ridiculous things like the way they dressed or who they hung out with. It may seem silly how that bothered me so much, but it seeped into our relationship. She badgered my friends constantly, her own friends, even my family. She used to make snarky comments to Charlotte about the way she dressed and I was just so done with her immaturity. I know she’s a good person. I saw that in her. That’s why I loved her, but I didn’t wait around for her to grow up.

And I think our relationship even made it worse after a while when she’d target girls to keep them away from me. I became toxic to her and I didn’t want that to watch her tear herself and others apart. So I broke things off.”

I didn’t know quite how I felt about all that. Part of me felt like I could’ve seen the hatred churning in her a mile away, but I don’t know Amy like Justin does. And her hostility was directed towards me because I was hanging out with the boy she loves. I’m not sure what caused Amy’s calloused actions towards others, and I don’t feel the need to ask. Justin most likely knows but it’s not his place to tell me or for me to know. We all have ghosts that helped shape us into who we’ve become. And Amy would have to sort through hers before she can treat people differently.

“At school today, when she basically cornered me, she was pretty cliche at first. She was beautiful, mean, and calculating. I knew she was pissed and wanted to deliberately hurt me anyway she could. But then things kind of shifted. She started being pretty genuine with me with how she felt about you and everything. And then all I could really see was a heartbroken girl coping the only way she knew how,” I opted out telling him about how she said he’d only break my heart. I’ve been trying to put my faith in him so I didn’t need his reassurances of how she was wrong. I wanted to trust him on this.

It felt weird to say that out loud. It would be so easy to hate Amy. Especially for everything she’s done to Lou, Saturday, and just simply the fact that she was Justin’s ex and I can never change that.

That’s the challenge though. Looking at someone’s flaws and trying to sympathize with them and recognize their humanity. No one can ever achieve perfection. We’re all tragically flawed and purposefully hurt others for our own intent. You could tally it up to human nature and excuse your behavior into nothing. The challenging part is admitting your mistakes and doing your damndest to correct them.

“I’m sorry for whatever she said. It’s kinda ironic how I’m still apologizing for her actions. I figured I wouldn’t have to after we broke up and I could finally not feel responsible for what she does or says,” Justin gently moves a strand of hair from my face, smiling softly at me.

“So,” He says once again and I grin.

“So,” I repeat and he laughs, throwing his head back, his neck muscles straining against the deep husk of his laughter. I can’t believe he ever thought any girl could resist him. He’s beautiful.

“That’s my sob story. Minus the sobbing because it isn’t manly.”

“Justin! Hush! Real men cry,” I say confidently. He rolls his eyes.

“Sure. That’s if you’re a sensitive guy. No offense to them at all, because my cousin is one of them. But it’s just not me.” I go to retort before I hear his mother’s voice telling us dinner was ready. We both stand up, stretching out our bodies from being sat in place for too long.

“Come on mister stone cold. After dinner I owe you a sob story of my own,” Seeing him begin lunging for me, I laugh and dart out of his room and downstairs, trying to enjoy myself before I’d have to bring up a part of my past that was still painful.

It was time for Justin to know about Bryce, and I can only hope that he remains as nothing but a cautionary tale. Because the last thing I want is for Justin to ever have to meet him. I wasn’t quite ready for my past and present to collide.

Somethings are better left alone.


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