Main Ugly Love: A Novel
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One of my favourite books
27 December 2020 (13:59)
I cried and laughed. I don't think I have ever read a book this good my entire life.
26 January 2021 (05:37)
I finished this book in 12 hours!!! I couldnt stop reading it & it’s definitely my favorite book so far
09 February 2021 (11:20)
One of my favourite books till now, I cried and laugh many times with this hopefully and painful book. Lovely.
14 February 2021 (21:31)
Absolutely worth reading. Real tearjerker. Yup I read it all in one sitting.
26 February 2021 (06:02)
This is one of the best books I’ve read. So well written and has an amazing plot that’ll make you cry, laugh, and smile. I love it.
09 March 2021 (09:45)
Please don't read books from this site. It's illegal and taking money from the author. If there is a book you want to read, but don't feel the author deserves compensation, if you ask them nicely, I'm sure they will send you the book for free. By supporting sites like this is makes it hard for the authors you love (like CH) to continue writing the books you love. Just please consider other forms of reading besides theft/piracy.
15 March 2021 (21:02)
i laughed, i cried, i realized that i too would like a Miles
18 March 2021 (23:10)
I love this book it practically sucked the breath out of me
30 March 2021 (21:13)
02 April 2021 (20:23)
Omg loved this book wish there was more:)
14 April 2021 (05:41)
Readdddd this book it’s so good
17 April 2021 (01:01)
Loved this book. It was not what I was expecting it was so much more❤️
18 April 2021 (06:57)
One of the most overrated books by colleen hoover
30 April 2021 (02:13)
Best book of all. The story line soo unique and emotional. Read it guys
04 May 2021 (09:22)
Oh yes..... Moments i cried.... Such a nice story.
08 May 2021 (08:26)
Nice short story of a quick read. one of the best ones yet by colleen hoover.
18 May 2021 (00:59)
Amazing novel, these writers never seize to amaze me
19 May 2021 (02:28)
the emotions that this book evoked out of me....worth reading
21 May 2021 (09:02)
Just read it it's the besttttttt
24 May 2021 (10:37)
A love this book because:
Talk about the past, the present and the future.
Talk about the past, the present and the future.
27 May 2021 (14:27)
just saw this from my fyp on tiktok and i have no regrets it's the best!!
31 May 2021 (06:34)
I CRIEDDDDD but also laugh! Love how it is divided present and past, you never want to stop reading
02 June 2021 (02:15)
I LOVED this book read it in 2 days
05 June 2021 (06:44)
I dk how to read it someone tell me
06 June 2021 (13:41)
i haven't read it yet but judging by the reviews, i know it's gonna be great <3
07 June 2021 (23:20)
I really love this book aaaaaaa. Btw guys, they also appear in November 9 book
08 June 2021 (07:28)
Wow this is my 56th book i have read and this is definitely the best. I love the plot SO FUCKING MUCH i love the male lead and female lead they're perfect. I would die for this book
08 June 2021 (13:37)
I just finished this book and trust me... this story will stick with you and hold a special place in your heart. Its amazing really..
10 June 2021 (04:34)
this book will forever hold a place in my heart. the author really showed us the “ugly love” we are so quick to avoid when we feel to much. cried myself to sleep, lol.
14 June 2021 (20:45)
I love this book so much. I read it all through the night. I just had to finish before I could get any sleep
14 June 2021 (20:50)
The book was just great you have to read it. This book left an impact on me, I finished this in one sitting the was this good.
19 June 2021 (02:07)
This is the kind of book i want movies to be like yall
19 June 2021 (18:09)
This is the very first CH's book I've read and THE STORY IS JUST AMAZING THAT I FELL IN LOVE.
22 June 2021 (10:54)
I loved it. Definently a recommendations i would totally give to anyone and i loved it that i didn't want to finish it but also wanted to know what happened next.
23 June 2021 (23:01)
this book is my comfort story, its so beautiful
30 June 2021 (08:01)
no coz, miles has been through so much for love. He deserves tate
30 June 2021 (08:03)
This book made me feel like crying but later it lifted my mood . I love it wow
07 July 2021 (20:58)
Once again Colleen Hoover strikes the heart witha hot iron. It is lovely yet tragic how the story unfolds. I feel happy yet the sense of loss is just not erasable
09 July 2021 (13:25)
this book was so good omg! It was an emotional wreck!! When the daughter was born at the end I cried so hard :(, loved it though!
13 July 2021 (21:03)
im inlove, i never cried so hard in my life before
14 July 2021 (02:50)
I was aiming to read "it ends with us" but ended up reading ugly love and i never regret it, like WOW, this book made me mad, sad, and happy at the same time. i'm literally staring at the ceiling for hours after reading this
15 July 2021 (18:45)
this book was too good! it made me cry so much. 10/10 would recommend!
19 July 2021 (23:18)
Colleen hoover's best book FOR SURE! Incredible love story that deserves the worlds.. AND MOVIE !
20 July 2021 (20:21)
This book is a 10/10. It made me cry, laugh, and smile. 100% recommend
23 July 2021 (06:30)
One of my favorite 5 stars book
24 July 2021 (07:05)
Ughhhh this was soo good???
27 July 2021 (07:09)
Not gonna lie, the ending was expected but I really liked the book for the rollercoaster feelings
27 July 2021 (15:20)
It's my first time leaving a comment here. This book is so amazing!
30 July 2021 (00:25)
It’s hard to let go but in order to move forward with peace then you have to have to reconcile with your own self. Forgive yourself and let the time do it’s job. To heal those wounds , learn from every experience and to love again and again. This book brings amazing message to everyone.
01 August 2021 (23:15)
Thank you for downloading this Atria Books eBook. * * * Sign up for our newsletter and receive special offers, access to bonus content, and info on the latest new releases and other great eBooks from Atria Books and Simon & Schuster. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP or visit us online to sign up at eBookNews.SimonandSchuster.com For my two very best friends, who also happen to be my sisters, Lin and Murphy chapter one TATE “Somebody stabbed you in the neck, young lady.” My eyes widen, and I slowly turn toward the elderly gentleman standing at my side. He presses the up button on the elevator and faces me. He smiles and points to my neck. “Your birthmark,” he says. My hand instinctively goes up to my neck, and I touch the dime-sized mark just below my ear. “My grandfather used to say the placement of a birthmark was the story of how a person lost the battle in their past life. I guess you got stabbed in the neck. Bet it was a quick death, though.” I smile, but I can’t tell if I should be afraid or entertained. Despite his somewhat morbid opening conversation, he can’t be that dangerous. His curved posture and shaky stance give away that he isn’t a day less than eighty years old. He takes a few slow steps toward one of two velvet red chairs that are positioned against the wall next to the elevator. He grunts as he sinks into the chair and then looks up at me again. “You going up to floor eighteen?” My eyes narrow as I process his question. He somehow knows what floor I’m going to, even though this is the first time I’ve ever set foot in this apartment complex, and it’s definitely the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on this man. “Yes, sir,” I say cautiously. “Do you work here?” “I do indeed.” He nods his head toward the elevator, and my eyes move to the illuminated numbers overhead. Eleven floors to go before it arrives. I pray it gets here quickly. “I push the button for the elevator,” he says. “I don’t think there’s an official title for m; y position, but I like to refer to myself as a flight captain, considering I do send people as high as twenty stories up in the air.” I smile at his words, since my brother and father are both pilots. “How long have you been flight captain of this elevator?” I ask as I wait. I swear this is the slowest damn elevator I’ve ever encountered. “Since I got too old to do maintenance on this building. Worked here thirty-two years before I became captain. Been sending people on flights now for more than fifteen years, I think. Owner gave me a pity job to keep me busy till I died.” He smiles to himself. “What he didn’t realize is that God gave me a lot of great things to accomplish in my life, and right now, I’m so far behind I ain’t ever gonna die.” I find myself laughing when the elevator doors finally open. I reach down to grab the handle of my suitcase and turn to him one more time before I step inside. “What’s your name?” “Samuel, but call me Cap,” he says. “Everybody else does.” “You got any birthmarks, Cap?” He grins. “As a matter of fact, I do. Seems in my past life, I was shot right in the ass. Must have bled out.” I smile and bring my hand to my forehead, giving him a proper captain’s salute. I step into the elevator and turn around to face the open doors, admiring the extravagance of the lobby. This place seems more like a historic hotel than an apartment complex, with its expansive columns and marble floors. When Corbin said I could stay with him until I found a job, I had no idea he lived like an actual adult. I thought it would be similar to the last time I visited him, right after I graduated from high school, back when he had first started working toward his pilot’s license. That was four years and a two-story sketchy complex ago. That’s kind of what I was expecting. I certainly wasn’t anticipating a high-rise smack dab in the middle of downtown San Francisco. I find the panel and press the button for the eighteenth floor, then look up at the mirrored wall of the elevator. I spent all day yesterday and most of this morning packing up everything I own from my apartment back in San Diego. Luckily, I don’t own much. But after making the solo five-hundred-mile drive today, my exhaustion is pretty evident in my reflection. My hair is in a loose knot on top of my head, secured with a pencil, since I couldn’t find a hair tie while I was driving. My eyes are usually as brown as my hazelnut hair, but right now, they look ten shades darker, thanks to the bags under them. I reach into my purse to find a tube of ChapStick, hoping to salvage my lips before they end up as weary-looking as the rest of me. As soon as the elevator doors begin to close, they open again. A guy is rushing toward the elevators, preparing to walk on as he acknowledges the old man. “Thanks, Cap,” he says. I can’t see Cap from inside the elevator, but I hear him grunt something in return. He doesn’t sound nearly as eager to make small talk with this guy as he was with me. This man looks to be in his late twenties at most. He grins at me, and I know exactly what’s going through his mind, considering he just slid his left hand into his pocket. The hand with the wedding ring on it. “Floor ten,” he says without looking away from me. His eyes fall to what little cleavage is peeking out of my shirt, and then he looks at the suitcase by my side. I press the button for floor ten. I should have worn a sweater. “Moving in?” he asks, blatantly staring at my shirt again. I nod, although I doubt he notices, considering his gaze isn’t planted anywhere near my face. “What floor?” Oh, no, you don’t. I reach beside me and cover all the buttons on the panel with my hands to hide the illuminated eighteenth-floor button, and then I press every single button between floors ten and eighteen. He glances at the panel, confused. “None of your business,” I say. He laughs. He thinks I’m kidding. He arches his dark, thick eyebrow. It’s a nice eyebrow. It’s attached to a nice face, which is attached to a nice head, which is attached to a nice body. A married body. Asshole. He grins seductively after seeing me check him out—only I wasn’t checking him out the way he thinks I was. In my mind, I was wondering how many times that body has been pressed against a girl who wasn’t his wife. I feel sorry for his wife. He’s looking at my cleavage again when we reach floor ten. “I can help you with that,” he says, nodding toward my suitcase. His voice is nice. I wonder how many girls have fallen for that married voice. He walks toward me and reaches to the panel, bravely pressing the button that closes the doors. I hold his stare and press the button to open the doors. “I’ve got it.” He nods as if he understands, but there’s still a wicked gleam in his eyes that reaffirms my immediate dislike of him. He steps out of the elevator and turns to face me before walking away. “Catch you later, Tate,” he says, just as the doors close. I frown, not comfortable with the fact that the only two people I’ve interacted with since walking into this apartment building already know who I am. I remain alone on the elevator as it stops on every single floor until it reaches the eighteenth. I step off, pull my phone out of my pocket, and open up my messages to Corbin. I can’t remember which apartment number he said was his. It’s either 1816 or 1814. Maybe it’s 1826? I come to a stop at 1814, because there’s a guy passed out on the floor of the hallway, leaning against the door to 1816. Please don’t let it be 1816. I find the message on my phone and cringe. It’s 1816. Of course it is. I walk slowly to the door, hoping I don’t wake up the guy. His legs are sprawled out in front of him, and he’s leaning with his back propped up against Corbin’s door. His chin is tucked to his chest, and he’s snoring. “Excuse me,” I say, my voice just above a whisper. He doesn’t move. I lift my leg and poke his shoulder with my foot. “I need to get into this apartment.” He rustles and then slowly opens his eyes and stares straight ahead at my legs. His eyes meet my knees, and his eyebrows furrow as he slowly leans forward with a deep scowl on his face. He lifts a hand and pokes my knee with his finger, almost as if he’s never seen a knee before. He drops his hand, closes his eyes, and falls back asleep against the door. Great. Corbin won’t be back until tomorrow, so I dial his number to see if this guy is someone I should be concerned about. “Tate?” he asks, answering his phone without a hello. “Yep,” I reply. “Made it safe, but I can’t get in because there’s a drunk guy passed out at your front door. Suggestions?” “Eighteen sixteen?” he asks. “You sure you’re at the right apartment?” “Positive.” “Are you sure he’s drunk?” “Positive.” “Weird,” he says. “What’s he wearing?” “Why do you want to know what he’s wearing?” “If he’s wearing a pilot’s uniform, he probably lives in the building. The complex contracts with our airline.” This guy isn’t wearing any type of uniform, but I can’t help but notice that his jeans and black T-shirt do fit him very nicely. “No uniform,” I say. “Can you get past him without waking him up?” “I’d have to move him. He’ll fall inside if I open the door.” He’s quiet for a few seconds while he thinks. “Go downstairs and ask for Cap,” he says. “I told him you were coming tonight. He can wait with you until you’re inside the apartment.” I sigh, because I’ve been driving for six hours, and going all the way back downstairs is not something I feel like doing right now. I also sigh because Cap is the last person who could probably help in this situation. “Just stay on the phone with me until I’m inside your apartment.” I like my plan a lot better. I balance my phone against my ear with my shoulder and dig inside my purse for the key Corbin sent me. I insert it into the lock and begin to open the door, but the drunk guy begins to fall backward with every inch the door opens. He groans, but his eyes don’t open again. “It’s too bad he’s wasted,” I tell Corbin. “He’s not bad-looking.” “Tate, just get your ass inside and lock the door so I can hang up.” I roll my eyes. He’s still the same bossy brother he always was. I knew that moving in with him would not be good for our relationship, considering how fatherly he acted toward me when we were younger. However, I had no time to find a job, get my own apartment, and get settled before my new classes started, so it left me with little choice. I’m hoping things will be different between us now, though. Corbin is twenty-five, and I’m twenty-three, so if we can’t get along better than we did as kids, we’ve got a lot of growing up left to do. I guess that mostly depends on Corbin and whether he’s changed since we last lived together. He had an issue with anyone I dated, all of my friends, every choice I made—even what college I wanted to attend. Not that I ever paid any attention to his opinion, though. The distance and time apart has seemed to get him off my back for the last few years, but moving in with him will be the ultimate test of our patience. I wrap my purse around my shoulder, but it gets caught on my suitcase handle, so I just let it fall to the floor. I keep my left hand wrapped tightly around the doorknob and hold the door shut so the guy won’t fall completely into the apartment. I take my foot and press it against his shoulder, pushing him from the center of the doorway. He doesn’t budge. “Corbin, he’s too heavy. I’m gonna have to hang up so I can use both hands.” “No, don’t hang up. Just put the phone in your pocket, but don’t hang up.” I look down at the oversized shirt and leggings I have on. “No pockets. You’re going in the bra.” Corbin makes a gagging sound as I pull the phone from my ear and shove it inside my bra. I remove the key from the lock and drop it toward my purse, but it misses and falls to the floor. I reach down to grab the drunk guy so I can move him out of the way. “All right, buddy,” I say, struggling to pull him away from the center of the doorway. “Sorry to interrupt your nap, but I need inside this apartment.” I somehow manage to prop him up against the doorframe to prevent him from falling into the apartment, and then I push the door open farther and turn to get my things. Something warm wraps around my ankle. I freeze. I look down. “Let go of me!” I yell, kicking at the hand that’s gripping my ankle so tightly I’m pretty sure it might bruise. The drunk guy is looking up at me now, and his grip sends me falling backward into the apartment when I try to pull away from him. “I need to get in there,” he mutters, just as my butt meets the floor. He makes an attempt to push the apartment door open with his other hand, and this immediately sends me into panic mode. I pull my legs the rest of the way inside, and his hand comes with me. I use my free leg to kick the door shut, slamming it directly onto his wrist. “Shit!” he yells. He’s trying to pull his hand back into the hallway with him, but my foot is still pressing against the door. I release enough pressure for him to have his hand back, and then I immediately kick the door all the way shut. I pull myself up and lock the door, the dead bolt, and the chain lock as quickly as I can. As soon as my heart rate begins to calm down, it starts to scream at me. My heart is actually screaming at me. In a deep male voice. It sounds like it’s yelling, “Tate! Tate!” Corbin. I immediately look down at my chest and pull my phone out of my bra, then bring it up to my ear. “Tate! Answer me!” I wince, then pull the phone several inches from my ear. “I’m fine,” I say, out of breath. “I’m inside. I locked the door.” “Jesus Christ!” he says, relieved. “You scared me to death. What the hell happened?” “He was trying to get inside. I locked the door, though.” I flip on the living-room light and take no more than three steps inside before I come to a halt. Good going, Tate. I slowly turn back toward the door after realizing what I’ve done. “Um. Corbin?” I pause. “I might have left a few things outside that I need. I would just grab them, but the drunk guy thinks he needs to get inside your apartment for some reason, so there’s no way I’m opening that door again. Any suggestions?” He’s silent for a few seconds. “What did you leave in the hallway?” I don’t want to answer him, but I do. “My suitcase.” “Christ, Tate,” he mutters. “And . . . my purse.” “Why the hell is your purse outside?” “I might have also left the key to your apartment on the hallway floor.” He doesn’t even respond to that one. He just groans. “I’ll call Miles and see if he’s home yet. Give me two minutes.” “Wait. Who’s Miles?” “He lives across the hall. Whatever you do, don’t open the door again until I call you back.” Corbin hangs up, and I lean against his front door. I’ve lived in San Francisco all of thirty minutes, and I’m already being a pain in his ass. Figures. I’ll be lucky if he lets me stay here until I find a job. I hope that doesn’t take long, considering I applied for three RN positions at the closest hospital. It might mean working nights, weekends, or both, but I’ll take what I can get if it prevents me from having to dip into savings while I’m back in school. My phone rings. I slide my thumb across the screen and answer it. “Hey.” “Tate?” “Yep,” I reply, wondering why he always double-checks to see if it’s me. He called me, so who else would be answering it who sounds exactly like me? “I got hold of Miles.” “Good. Is he gonna help me get my stuff?” “Not exactly,” Corbin says. “I kind of need you to do me a huge favor.” My head falls against the door again. I have a feeling the next few months are going to be full of inconvenient favors, since he knows he’s doing me a huge one by letting me stay here. Dishes? Check. Corbin’s laundry? Check. Corbin’s grocery shopping? Check. “What do you need?” I ask him. “Miles kind of needs your help.” “The neighbor?” I pause as soon as it clicks, and I close my eyes. “Corbin, please don’t tell me the guy you called to protect me from the drunk guy is the drunk guy.” Corbin sighs. “I need you to unlock the door and let him in. Let him crash on the couch. I’ll be there first thing in the morning. When he sobers up, he’ll know where he is, and he’ll go straight home.” I shake my head. “What kind of apartment complex are you living in? Do I need to prepare to be groped by drunk people every time I come home?” Long pause. “He groped you?” “ ‘Grope’ might be a bit strong. He did grab my ankle, though.” Corbin lets out a sigh. “Just do this for me, Tate. Call me back when you’ve got him and all your stuff inside.” “Fine.” I groan, recognizing the worry in his voice. I hang up with Corbin and open the door. The drunk guy falls onto his shoulder, and his cell phone slips from his hand and lands on the floor next to his head. I flip him onto his back and look down at him. He cracks his eyes open and attempts to look up at me, but his eyelids fall shut again. “You’re not Corbin,” he mutters. “No. I’m not. But I am your new neighbor, and from the looks of it, you’re about to owe me at least fifty cups of sugar.” I lift him by his shoulders and try to get him to sit up, but he doesn’t. I don’t think he can, actually. How does a person even get this drunk? I grab his hands and pull him inch by inch into the apartment, stopping when he’s just far enough inside for me to be able to close the door. I retrieve all of my things from outside the apartment, then shut and lock the front door. I grab a throw pillow from the couch, prop his head up, and roll him onto his side in case he pukes in his sleep. And that’s all the help he’s getting from me. When he’s comfortably asleep in the middle of the living-room floor, I leave him there while I look around the apartment. The living room alone could fit three of the living rooms from Corbin’s last apartment. The dining area is open to the living room, but the kitchen is separated from the living room by a half-wall. There are several modern paintings throughout the room, and the thick, plush sofas are a light tan, offsetting the vibrant paintings. The last time I stayed with him, he had a futon, a beanbag chair, and posters of models on the walls. I think my brother might finally be growing up. “Very impressive, Corbin,” I say out loud as I walk from room to room and flip on all the lights, inspecting what has just become my temporary home. I kind of hate that it’s so nice. It’ll make it harder to want to find my own place once I get enough money saved up. I walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator. There’s a row of condiments in the door, a box of leftover pizza on the middle shelf, and a completely empty gallon of milk still sitting on the top shelf. Of course he doesn’t have groceries. I can’t have expected him to change completely. I grab a bottled water and exit the kitchen to go search for the room I’ll be living in for the next few months. There are two bedrooms, so I take the one that isn’t Corbin’s and set my suitcase on top of the bed. I have about three more suitcases and at least six boxes down in the car, not to mention all my clothes on hangers, but I’m not about to attempt those tonight. Corbin said he’d be back in the morning, so I’ll leave that to him. I change into a pair of sweats and a tank top, then brush my teeth and get ready for bed. Normally, I would be nervous about the fact that there’s a stranger in the same apartment I’m in, but I have a feeling I don’t need to worry. Corbin would never ask me to help someone he felt might be a threat to me in any way. Which confuses me, because if this is common behavior for Miles, I’m surprised Corbin asked me to bring him inside. Corbin has never trusted guys with me, and I blame Blake for that. He was my first serious boyfriend when I was fifteen, and he was Corbin’s best friend. Blake was seventeen, and I had a huge crush on him for months. Of course, my friends and I had huge crushes on most of Corbin’s friends, simply because they were older than we were. Blake would come over most weekends to stay the night with Corbin, and we always seemed to find a way to spend time together when Corbin wasn’t paying attention. One thing led to another, and after several weekends of sneaking around, Blake told me he wanted to make our relationship official. The problem Blake didn’t foresee was how Corbin would react once Blake broke my heart. And boy, did he break it. As much as a fifteen-year-old heart can be broken after the span of a two-week secret relationship. Turned out he was officially dating quite a few girls during the two weeks he was with me. Once Corbin found out, their friendship was over, and all of Corbin’s friends were warned not to come near me. I found it almost impossible to date in high school until after Corbin finally moved away. Even then, though, the guys had heard horror stories and tended to steer clear of Corbin’s little sister. As much as I hated it then, I would more than welcome it now. I’ve had my fair share of relationships go wrong since high school. I lived with my most recent boyfriend for more than a year before we realized we wanted two separate things out of life. He wanted me home. I wanted a career. So now I’m here. Pursuing my master’s degree in nursing and doing whatever I can to avoid relationships. Maybe living with Corbin won’t be such a bad thing after all. I head back to the living room to turn out the lights, but when I’ve rounded the corner, I come to an immediate halt. Not only is Miles up off the floor, but he’s in the kitchen, with his head pressed against his arms and his arms folded on top of the kitchen counter. He’s seated on the edge of a bar stool, and he looks as if he’s about to fall off it any second. I can’t tell if he’s sleeping again or just attempting to recover. “Miles?” He doesn’t move when I call his name, so I walk toward him and gently lay my hand on his shoulder to shake him awake. The second my fingers squeeze his shoulder, he gasps and sits up straight as if I just woke him from the middle of a dream. Or a nightmare. Immediately, he slides off the stool and onto very unstable legs. He begins to sway, so I throw his arm over my shoulder and try to walk him out of the kitchen. “Let’s go to the couch, buddy.” He drops his forehead to the side of my head and stumbles along with me, making it even harder to hold him up. “My name isn’t Buddy,” he slurs. “It’s Miles.” We make it to the front of the couch, and I start to peel him off me. “Okay, Miles. Whoever you are. Just go to sleep.” He falls onto the couch, but he doesn’t let go of my shoulders. I fall with him and immediately attempt to pull away. “Rachel, don’t,” he begs, grabbing me by the arm, trying to pull me to the couch with him. “My name isn’t Rachel,” I say, freeing myself from his iron grip. “It’s Tate.” I don’t know why I clarify what my name is, because it’s not likely he’ll remember this conversation tomorrow. I walk to where the throw pillow is and pick it up off the floor. I pause before handing it back to him, because he’s on his side now, and his face is pressed into the couch cushion. He’s gripping the couch so tightly his knuckles are white. At first, I think he’s about to get sick, but then I realize how incredibly wrong I am. He’s not sick. He’s crying. Hard. So hard he isn’t even making a sound. I don’t even know the guy, but the obvious devastation he’s experiencing is difficult to witness. I look down the hallway and back to him, wondering if I should leave him alone in order to give him privacy. The last thing I want to do is get tangled up in someone’s issues. I’ve successfully avoided most forms of drama in my circle of friends up to this point, and I sure as hell don’t want to start now. My first instinct is to walk away, but for some reason, I find myself oddly sympathetic toward him. His pain actually appears genuine and not just the result of an overconsumption of alcohol. I lower myself to my knees in front of him and touch his shoulder. “Miles?” He inhales a huge breath, slowly lifting his face to look at me. His eyes are mere slits and bloodshot red. I’m not sure if that’s a result of the crying or the alcohol. “I’m so sorry, Rachel,” he says, lifting a hand out toward me. He wraps it around the back of my neck and pulls me forward toward him, burying his face in the crevice between my neck and shoulder. “I’m so sorry.” I have no idea who Rachel is or what he did to her, but if he’s hurting this bad, I shudder to think what she’s feeling. I’m tempted to find his phone and search for her name and call her so she can come rectify this. Instead, I gently push him back into the couch. I lay his pillow down and urge him onto it. “Go to sleep, Miles,” I say gently. His eyes are so full of hurt when he drops to the pillow. “You hate me so much,” he says as he grabs my hand. His eyes fall shut again, and he releases a heavy sigh. I stare at him silently, allowing him to keep hold of my hand until he’s quiet and still and there aren’t any more tears. I pull my hand away from his, but I stay by his side for a few minutes longer. Even though he’s asleep, he somehow still looks as if he’s in a world of pain. His eyebrows are furrowed, and his breathing is sporadic, failing to fall into a peaceful pattern. For the first time, I notice a faint, jagged scar, about four inches long, that runs smoothly across the entire right side of his jaw. It stops just two inches shy of his lips. I have the strange urge to touch it and run my finger down the length of it, but instead, my hand reaches up to his hair. It’s short on the sides, a little longer on the top, and just the perfect blend of brown and blond. I stroke his hair, comforting him, even though he may not deserve it. This guy may deserve every single bit of the remorse he’s feeling for whatever he did to Rachel, but at least he’s feeling it. I have to give him that much. Whatever he did to Rachel, at least he loves her enough to regret it. chapter two MILES Six years earlier I open the door to the administration office and walk the roll sheet to the secretary’s desk. Before I turn and head back to class, she stops me with a question. “You’re in Mr. Clayton’s senior English class, aren’t you, Miles?” “Yep,” I reply to Mrs. Borden. “Need me to take something to him?” The phone on her desk rings, and she nods, picking up the receiver. She covers it with her hand. “Wait around another minute or two,” she says, nodding her head in the direction of the principal’s office. “We’ve got a new student who just enrolled, and she also has Mr. Clayton this period. I need you to show her to the classroom.” I agree and plop down into one of the chairs next to the door. I look around the administration office and realize this is the first time in the four years I’ve been in high school that I’ve ever sat in one of these seats. Which means I’ve successfully made it four years without being sent to the office. My mother would have been proud to know that, although it leaves me kind of disappointed in myself. Detention is something every male in high school should accomplish at least once. I have the rest of my senior year to achieve it, though, so there’s that to look forward to. I retrieve my phone from my pocket, secretly hoping Mrs. Borden sees me with it and decides to slap me with a detention slip. When I look up at her, she’s still on the phone, but she makes eye contact with me. She simply smiles and goes about her secretarial duties. I shake my head in disappointment and open up a text to Ian. It doesn’t take much to excite people around here. Nothing new ever happens. Me: New girl enrolled today. Senior. Ian: Is she hot? Me: Haven’t seen her yet. About to walk her to class. Ian: Take a picture if she’s hot. Me: Will do. BTW, how many times have you had detention this year? Ian: Twice. Why? What’d you do? Twice? Yeah, I need to rebel it up a little before graduation. I should definitely turn in some homework late this year. I’m pathetic. The door to the principal’s office opens, so I close my phone. I slide it into my pocket and look up. I never want to look down again. “Miles is going to show you the way to Mr. Clayton’s class, Rachel.” Mrs. Borden points Rachel in my direction, and she begins to walk toward me. I instantly become aware of my legs and their inability to stand. My mouth forgets how to speak. My arms forget how to reach out to introduce the person they’re attached to. My heart forgets to wait and get to know a girl before it starts to claw its way out of my chest to get to her. Rachel. Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. She’s like poetry. Like prose and love letters and lyrics, cascading down the center of a page. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. I say her name over and over in my head, because I’m positive it’s the name of the next girl I’ll fall in love with. I’m suddenly standing. Walking toward her. I might be smiling, pretending I’m not affected by those green eyes that I hope will one day be smiling just for me. Or that red-as-my-heart hair that doesn’t look like it’s been tampered with since God created it specifically with her in mind. I’m talking to her. I tell her my name is Miles. I tell her she can follow me and I’ll show her the way to Mr. Clayton’s class. I’m staring at her because she hasn’t spoken yet, but her nod is the nicest thing a girl has ever said to me. I ask her where she’s from, and she tells me Arizona. “Phoenix,” she specifies. I don’t ask her what brought her to California, but I do tell her my father does business in Phoenix a lot because he owns a few buildings there. She smiles. I tell her I’ve never been there but I’d like to go one day. She smiles again. I think she says it’s a nice town, but it’s hard to understand her words when all I hear in my head is her name. Rachel. I’m gonna fall in love with you, Rachel. Her smile makes me want to keep talking, so I ask her another question as we pass Mr. Clayton’s room. We keep walking. She keeps talking, because I keep asking her questions. She nods some. She answers some. She sings some. Or it sounds that way. We get to the end of the hallway, right when she says something about how she hopes she likes this school because she wasn’t ready to move away from Phoenix. She doesn’t look happy about the move. She doesn’t know how happy I am about the move. “Where’s Mr. Clayton’s classroom?” she asks. I stare at the mouth that just delivered that question. Her lips aren’t symmetrical. Her top lip is slightly thinner than her bottom lip, but you can’t tell until she talks. When words come out of her mouth, it makes me wonder why words are so much better coming from her mouth than any other mouth. And her eyes. There’s no way her eyes aren’t seeing a prettier, more peaceful world than all the other eyes. I stare at her for a few more seconds; then I point behind me and tell her we passed Mr. Clayton’s classroom. Her cheeks grow a shade pinker, like my confession affected her in the same way she’s affecting me. I smile again. I nod my head toward Mr. Clayton’s class. We walk in that direction. Rachel. You’re gonna fall in love with me, Rachel. I open the door for her and let Mr. Clayton know that Rachel is new here. I also want to add, for the sake of all the other guys in the classroom, that Rachel is not theirs. She’s mine. But I don’t say anything. I don’t have to, because the only one who needs to be aware that I want Rachel is Rachel. She looks at me and smiles again, taking the only empty seat, all the way across the room. Her eyes tell me she already knows she’s mine. It’s just a matter of time. I want to text Ian and tell her she isn’t hot. I want to tell him she’s volcanic, but he would laugh at that. Instead, I discreetly take a picture of her from where I’m seated. I send the picture in a message to Ian that says, “She’s gonna have all my babies.” Mr. Clayton begins class. Miles Archer becomes obsessed. ••• I met Rachel on Monday. It’s Friday. I’ve said nothing to her since the day we met. I don’t know why. We have three classes together. Every time I see her, she smiles at me like she wants me to talk to her. Every time I work up the courage, I talk myself down. I used to be confident. Then Rachel happened. I gave myself until today. If I didn’t work up the courage by today, I’d be giving up my only shot with her. Girls like Rachel aren’t available for long. If she’s even available. I don’t know her story or if she’s wrapped up in a guy back in Phoenix, but there’s only one way to find out. I’m standing next to her locker, waiting for her. She exits the classroom and smiles at me. I say “Hi” when she walks up to her locker. I notice that same subtle change in her skin color. I like that. I ask how her first week was. She tells me it was fine. I ask her if she’s made any friends, and she shrugs as she says, “A few.” I smell her, subtly. She notices anyway. I tell her she smells good. She says, “Thank you.” I push through the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I push past the sheen of moisture developing on my palms. I drown out her name, which I keep wanting to repeat out loud, over and over. I push it all down and hold her stare while I ask her if she’d like to do something later. I keep it all pushed away and make room for her response, because it’s the only thing I want. I want that nod, actually. The one that doesn’t require words? Just a smile? I don’t get her nod. She has plans tonight. It all comes back tenfold, spilling over like a flood and I’m the dam. The pounding, the sweaty palms, her name, a newfound insecurity I never knew existed, burying itself in my chest. All of it takes over and feels like it’s building a wall around her. “I’m not busy tomorrow, though,” she says, obliterating the wall with her words. I make room for those words. Lots of room. I let them invade me. I soak those words up like a sponge. I pluck them out of the air and swallow them. “Tomorrow works for me,” I say. I pull my phone out of my pocket, not even bothering to hide my smile. “What’s your number? I’ll call you.” She tells me her number. She’s excited. She’s excited. I save her contact in my phone, knowing it’ll be there for a long, long time. And I’m gonna use it. A lot. chapter three TATE Normally, if I were to wake up, open my eyes, and see an angry man staring me down from a bedroom doorway, I might scream. I might throw things. I might run to the bathroom and lock myself inside. I don’t do any of these things, though. I stare back, because I’m confused about how this is the same guy who was passed out drunk in the hallway. How is this the same guy who cried himself to sleep last night? This guy is intimidating. This guy is angry. This guy is watching me like I should be giving him an apology or explaining myself. It is the same guy, though, because he’s wearing the same pair of jeans and the same black T-shirt he fell asleep in last night. The only difference in his appearance between last night and this morning is that he’s now able to stand up without assistance. “What happened to my hand, Tate?” He knows my name. Does he know it because Corbin told him I was moving in or because he actually remembers my telling him last night? I’m hoping Corbin told him, because I don’t really want him to remember last night. I suddenly feel embarrassed that he might recall my consoling him while he cried himself to sleep. He apparently doesn’t have a clue what happened to his hand, though, so I hope that means he has no recollection of anything beyond that. He’s leaning against my bedroom door with his arms folded across his chest. He looks defensive, like I’m the one responsible for his bad night. I roll over, still not quite finished with sleeping, even though he thinks I owe him some sort of explanation. I pull the covers over my head. “Lock the front door on your way out,” I say, hoping he’ll take the hint that he is more than welcome to go back to his place now. “Where’s my phone?” I squeeze my eyes shut and try to drown out the smooth sound of his voice as it slides into my ears and makes its way through every nerve in my body, warming me in places this flimsy blanket failed to do all night. I remind myself that the person that sultry voice belongs to is now standing in the doorway, rudely demanding things without even acknowledging the fact that I helped him last night. I’d like to know where my Thank you is. Or my Hey, I’m Miles. Nice to meet you. I get none of that from this guy. He’s too worried about his hand. And his phone, apparently. Too worried about himself to be concerned about how many people his carelessness might have inconvenienced last night. If this guy and his attitude are going to be my neighbors for the next few months, I’d better set him straight now. I toss the covers off and stand up, then walk to the door and meet his gaze. “Do me a favor and take a step back.” Surprisingly, he does. I keep my eyes locked with his until the bedroom door slams in his face and I’m looking at the back of the door. I smile and walk back to my bed. I lie down and pull the covers over my head. I win. Have I mentioned I’m not much of a morning person? The door opens again. Flies open. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he yells. I groan, then sit up on the bed and look at him. He’s standing in the doorway once again, still looking at me like I owe him something. “You!” I yell back. He looks genuinely shocked at my harsh response, which kind of makes me feel bad. But he’s the one being the jerk! I think. He started it. I think. He eyes me hard for a few seconds, then tilts his head slightly forward and arches an eyebrow. “Did we . . .” He motions his finger back and forth between us. “Did we hook up last night? Is that why you’re pissed?” I laugh when my initial thoughts are confirmed. He’s being the jerk. And this is great. I’m neighbors with a guy who gets shit-faced on weeknights and obviously brings home so many girls in the process that he can’t even remember which ones he messed around with. I open my mouth to respond but am cut off by the sound of the apartment door closing and Corbin’s voice yelling out. “Tate?” I immediately jump up and rush to the door, but Miles is still blocking the doorway, glaring at me, expecting a response to his question. I look him straight in the eyes to give him an answer, but his eyes catch me off guard for a short moment. They are the clearest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Not at all the heavy-lidded, bloodshot eyes from last night. His eyes are so light blue they’re almost colorless. I continue to stare at them, half expecting to see waves if I look closely enough. I’d say they were as clear blue as the waters of the Caribbean, but I’ve never actually been to the Caribbean, so I wouldn’t know. He blinks, and it immediately pulls me away from the Caribbean and back to San Francisco. Back to this bedroom. Back to the last question he asked before Corbin walked through the front door. “Not sure if you can call what we did hooking up,” I whisper. I stare at him, waiting for him to move out of my way. He stands taller, putting up an invisible wall of armor with his posture and his rigid body language. Apparently, he doesn’t like to envision the two of us making out, based on the unyielding look he’s giving me. It almost seems like he’s looking at me in disgust, which makes me dislike him that much more. I don’t back down, and neither of us breaks eye contact when he steps out of my way and allows me to pass him. Corbin is rounding the hallway when I exit my room. He glances back and forth between me and Miles, so I quickly shoot him a look to let him know that’s not even remotely a possibility. “Hey, Sis,” he says, pulling me in for a hug. I haven’t seen him in almost six months. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much you miss people until you see them again. That’s not the case with Corbin. I always miss him. As much as his protectiveness can get old at times, it’s also a testament to how close we are. Corbin releases me and pulls at a lock of my hair. “It’s longer,” he says. “I like it.” This may be the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other. I reach up and flick the hair hanging across his forehead. “So is yours,” I say. “And I don’t like it.” I smile to let him know I’m kidding. I actually like the shaggier look on him. People have always said we look a lot alike, but I don’t see it. His skin is a lot darker than mine, which I’ve always envied. Our hair is the same rich hue of brown, but our facial features are nothing alike, specifically our eyes. Mom used to tell us that if we put our eyes together, they would look just like a tree. His were as green as the leaves, and mine were as brown as the trunk. I always envied that he got to be the leaves of the tree, because green was my favorite color growing up. Corbin acknowledges Miles with a nod of his head. “Hey, man. Rough night?” He asks the question with a laugh, as he knows exactly what kind of night Miles had last night. Miles walks past both of us. “I don’t know,” he says in response. “I don’t remember it.” He walks into the kitchen and opens a cabinet, retrieving a cup like he’s comfortable enough here to do so. I don’t like that. I don’t like comfortable Miles. Comfortable Miles opens another cabinet and takes out a bottle of aspirin, fills his cup with water, and pops two of the aspirin into his mouth. “Did you get all your stuff brought up?” Corbin asks me. “Nope,” I say, glancing at Miles when I respond. “I was kind of preoccupied with your neighbor most of the night.” Miles nervously clears his throat as he washes the glass and places it back in the cabinet. His discomfort with his lapse in memory makes me laugh. I like that he has no idea what happened last night. I even kind of like that the thought of being with me seems to unnerve him. I might keep this façade going for a while for my own sick enjoyment. Corbin looks at me as if he knows what I’m trying to pull. Miles steps out of the kitchen and glances my way, then looks back to Corbin. “I would have gone back to my place by now, but I can’t find my keys. You have my spare set?” Corbin nods and walks to a drawer in the kitchen. He opens it, grabs a key, and tosses it to Miles, who catches it in midair. “Can you come back in an hour and help me unload Tate’s car? I want to shower first.” Miles nods, but his eyes cut briefly to mine as Corbin starts walking to his bedroom. “We’ll catch up when it’s not too morning,” Corbin tells me. It may have been seven years since we’ve lived together, but he apparently remembers I’m not much of a talker in the morning. Too bad Miles doesn’t know this about me. After Corbin disappears into his bedroom, I turn and face Miles again. He’s already looking at me expectantly, like he’s still waiting for me to answer whatever questions he asked me earlier. I just want him to leave, so I answer them all at once. “You were passed out in the hallway last night when I got here. I didn’t know who you were, so when you tried to get inside the apartment, I might have slammed the door on your hand. It’s not broken. I checked it out, and it’s bruised at best. Just put some ice on it and wrap it for a few hours. And no, we didn’t hook up. I helped you into the apartment, and then I went to bed. Your phone is on the floor by the front door where you dropped it last night because you were too shit-faced to walk.” I turn to head to my room, just wanting to get away from the intensity in his eyes. I spin around when I reach my bedroom door. “When you come back in an hour and I’ve had a chance to wake up, we can try this again.” His jaw is firm. “Try what again?” he asks. “Getting off on the right foot.” I close my bedroom door, putting up a barrier between me and that voice. That stare. ••• “How many boxes do you have?” Corbin asks. He’s slipping on his shoes by the door. I grab my keys off the bar. “Six, plus three suitcases and all my clothes on hangers.” Corbin walks to the door directly across the hall and bangs on it, then turns and heads toward the elevators. He pushes the down button. “Did you tell Mom you made it?” “Yeah, I texted her last night.” I hear his apartment door open just as the elevator arrives, but I don’t turn to watch him walk out of it. I step in, and Corbin holds the elevator for Miles. As soon as he comes into view, I lose the war. The war I didn’t even know I was fighting. It doesn’t happen often, but when I do find a guy attractive, it’s better when it happens with a person I want it to happen with. Miles is not the person I want to be feeling this for. I don’t want to be attracted to a guy who drinks himself into oblivion, cries over other girls, and can’t even remember if he screwed you the night before. But it’s hard not to notice his presence when his presence becomes everything. “Should just be two trips,” Corbin says to Miles as he presses the button for the ground floor. Miles is staring at me, and I can’t quite judge his demeanor, because he still looks pissed. I stare back, because no matter how good-looking he may be with that attitude, I’m still waiting for the thank you I never got. “Hi,” Miles finally says. He steps forward and completely ignores unspoken elevator etiquette by stepping too close and holding out his hand. “Miles Archer. I live across the hall from you.” And I’m confused. “I think we’ve established that,” I say, looking down at his outstretched hand. “Starting over,” he says, arching a brow. “On the right foot?” Ah. Yes. I did tell him that. I take his hand and shake it. “Tate Collins. I’m Corbin’s sister.” The way he steps back and keeps his eyes locked with mine makes me a little uncomfortable, since Corbin is standing only a foot away. Corbin doesn’t seem to care, though. He’s ignoring both of us, preoccupied with his phone. Miles finally breaks his stare and pulls his phone out of his pocket. I take the opportunity to study him while his attention is off of me. I come to the conclusion that his appearance is completely contradictory. It’s as if two different creators were at war when he was envisioned. The strength in his bone structure contrasts with the soft, inviting appeal of his lips. They seem harmless and welcoming compared with the harshness in his features and the jagged scar that runs the length of the right side of his jaw. His hair can’t decide if it wants to be brown or blond or wavy or straight. His personality flips between inviting and callously indifferent, muddling my ability to discern hot from cold. His casual posture is at war with the fierceness I’ve seen in his eyes. His composure this morning contradicts his inebriated state from last night. His eyes can’t decide if they want to look at his phone or at me, because they waver back and forth several times before the elevator doors open. I stop staring and step off the elevator first. Cap is seated in his chair, ever so vigilant. He glances at the three of us exiting the elevator and pushes up on the arms of his chair, coming to a slow, shaky stand. Corbin and Miles both nod at him and continue walking. “How was your first night, Tate?” he asks with a smile, stopping me midstride. The fact that he already knows my name doesn’t surprise me, since he knew what floor I was going to last night. I look at the back of Miles’s head as they continue without me. “Kind of eventful, actually. I think my brother might have made a poor choice in the company he keeps.” I look at Cap, and he’s staring at Miles now, too. His wrinkle-lined lips purse into a thin line, and he gives a slight shake of his head. “Ah, that boy probably can’t help it none,” he says, dismissing my comment. I’m not sure if he’s referring to Corbin or Miles when he says “that boy,” but I don’t ask. Cap turns away from me and begins shuffling in the direction of the lobby restrooms. “I think I just pissed on myself,” he mutters. I watch him disappear through the restroom door, wondering at what point in a person’s life he becomes old enough to lose his filter. Although Cap doesn’t seem like the type of man who ever even had a filter. I kind of like that about him. “Tate, let’s go!” Corbin yells from the far end of the lobby. I catch up with them to show them the way to my car. It takes three trips to get all my things up, not two. Three entire trips where Miles doesn’t speak another word to me. chapter four MILES Six years earlier Dad: “Where are you?” Me: “Ian’s house.” Dad: “We need to talk.” Me: “Can it wait until tomorrow? I’ll be home late.” Dad: “No. I need you home now. I’ve been waiting for you since school let out.” Me: “Fine. On my way.” That was the conversation that led to this moment. Me, sitting in front of my dad on the couch. My dad, telling me something I don’t care to hear. “I would have told you sooner, Miles. I just—” “Felt guilty?” I interrupt. “Like you’re doing something wrong?” His eyes meet mine, and I begin to feel bad for saying what I said, but I push the feeling down and keep going. “She’s been dead less than a year.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, I want to throw up. He doesn’t like being judged, especially by me. He’s used to my supporting his decisions. Hell, I’m used to supporting his decisions. Until now, I always thought he made good ones. “Look, I know this is hard for you to accept, but I need your support. You have no idea how hard it’s been for me to move on since she died.” “Hard?” I’m standing. I’m raising my voice. I’m acting like I give a shit for some reason, when I really don’t. I could care less that he’s already dating again. He can see whoever he wants. He can screw whoever he wants. I think the only reason I’m reacting this way is because she can’t. It’s hard to defend your marriage when you’re dead. That’s why I’m doing it for her. “It’s obviously not very hard for you at all, Dad.” I walk to the opposite end of the living room. I walk back. The house is too damn small to fit all of my frustration and disappointment. I look at him again, recognizing that it’s not so much the fact that he’s seeing someone already. It’s the look he gets in his eyes when he talks about her that I hate. I never saw him look at my mother that way, so whoever she is, I know it’s not a casual thing. She’s about to seep into our lives, intertwining around and through and between my relationship with my father like she’s poison ivy. It’ll no longer be just my father and me. It’ll be me, my father, and Lisa. It doesn’t feel right, considering my mother’s presence is still everywhere in this house. He’s sitting with his hands folded in front of him, clasped together. He’s looking down at the floor. “I don’t know if this will go anywhere, but I want to give it a shot. Lisa makes me happy. Sometimes moving on is . . . the only way to move on.” I open my mouth to respond to him, but my words are cut off by the doorbell. He looks up at me, hesitantly coming to a stand. He seems smaller. Less heroic. “I’m not asking you to like her. I’m not asking you to spend time with her. I just want you to be nice to her.” His eyes are pleading with me, and it makes me feel guilty for being so resistant. I nod. “I will, Dad. You know I will.” He hugs me, and it feels good and bad. It doesn’t feel like I just hugged the man I’ve had on a pedestal for seventeen years. It feels as though I just hugged my peer. He asks me to get the door while he heads back to the kitchen to finish dinner, so I do. I close my eyes and let my mom know that I’m going to be nice to Lisa, but she’ll always just be Lisa to me, no matter what happens between her and Dad. I open the door. “Miles?” I look at her face, and it’s completely opposite from my mother’s face. This makes me feel good. She’s a lot shorter than my mother. She’s not as pretty as my mother, either. There’s nothing about her that can be compared to my mother, so I don’t even try. I accept her for what she is: our dinner guest. I nod and open the door wider to let her in. “You must be Lisa. Good to meet you.” I point behind me. “My father is in the kitchen.” Lisa leans forward and gives me a hug—one that I successfully make awkward after it takes me several seconds to hug her back. My eyes meet the eyes of the girl standing behind her. The eyes of the girl standing behind her meet mine. You’re gonna fall in love with me, Rachel. “Miles?” she says in a broken whisper. Rachel sounds a little bit like her mother, but sadder. Lisa looks back and forth between us. “You know each other?” Rachel doesn’t nod. Neither do I. Our disappointment melts to the floor and combines in a puddle of premature tears at our feet. “He, um, . . . he . . .” Rachel is stuttering, so I help her finish her words. “I go to school with Rachel,” I blurt out. I regret saying that, because what I really want to say is, Rachel is the next girl I’m gonna fall in love with. I can’t say that, though, because it’s obvious what’s bound to happen. Rachel isn’t the next girl I’ll fall in love with, because Rachel is the girl who will more than likely become my new stepsister. For the second time tonight, I feel sick. Lisa smiles and clasps her hands together. “That’s great,” she says. “I’m so relieved.” My father walks into the room. He hugs Lisa. He says hi to Rachel and tells her it’s good to see her again. My father already knows Rachel. Rachel already knows my father. My father is Lisa’s new boyfriend. My father visits Phoenix a lot. My father has been visiting Phoenix a lot since before my mother died. My father is a bastard. “Rachel and Miles already know each other,” Lisa says to my father. He smiles, and relief floods his face. “Good. Good,” he says, repeating the word twice as if it could make things better. No. Bad. Bad. “That’ll make tonight a lot less awkward,” he says with a laugh. I look back at Rachel. Rachel looks at me. I can’t fall in love with you, Rachel. Her eyes are sad. My thoughts are sadder. And you can’t fall in love with me. She slowly walks inside, avoiding my gaze as she watches her feet with each step. They’re the saddest steps I’ve ever seen taken. I close the door. It’s the saddest door I’ve ever had to close. chapter five TATE “Are you off for Thanksgiving?” my mother asks. I switch my cell to my other ear and pull the apartment key out of my purse. “Yeah, but not Christmas. I only work weekends for now.” “Good. Tell Corbin we’re not dead yet if he ever gets the urge to call us.” I laugh. “I’ll tell him. Love you.” I hang up and put my cell phone into the pocket of my scrub top. It’s only a part-time job, but it gets my foot in the door. Tonight was my last night of training before I start weekend rotations tomorrow night. I like the job so far, and I was honestly shocked to land it after my first interview. It works out with my school schedule, too. I’m in school every weekday, doing either clinical or classroom hours, then I work second shift on the weekends over at the hospital. It’s been a seamless transition up to this point. I also like San Francisco. I know it’s only been two weeks, but I could see myself staying here after graduation next spring rather than going back to San Diego. Corbin and I have even been getting along, although he’s gone more than he’s home, so I’m sure that has everything to do with it. I smile, finally feeling like I’ve found my place, and I open the door to the apartment. My smile fades as soon as it meets the eyes of three other guys—only two of whom I recognize. Miles is standing in the kitchen, and the married asshole from the elevator is sitting on the couch. Why the hell is Miles here? Why the hell are any of them here? I glare at Miles as I kick off my shoes and drop my purse on the counter. Corbin isn’t due back for two more days, and I was looking forward to the peace and quiet tonight so I could get some studying done. “It’s Thursday,” Miles says when he sees the scowl on my face, like the day of the week is supposed to be some sort of explanation. He’s watching me from his position in the kitchen. He can see I’m not happy. “So it is,” I reply. “And tomorrow is Friday.” I turn to the other two guys sitting on Corbin’s couch. “Why are you all in my apartment?” The blond, lanky guy immediately stands up and walks over to me. He extends his hand. “Tate?” he asks. “I’m Ian. I grew up with Miles. I’m a friend of your brother’s.” He points to the elevator guy, who is still seated on the couch. “This is Dillon.” Dillon gives me a nod but doesn’t bother speaking. He doesn’t have to. His shit-eating grin says enough about what he’s thinking right now. Miles walks back into the living room and points to the television. “This is kind of a thing we do some Thursdays if either of us is home. Game night.” I don’t care if it’s their thing. I have homework. “Corbin isn’t even home tonight. Can’t you do this at your apartment? I need to study.” Miles hands Dillon a beer and then looks back at me. “I don’t have cable.” Of course you don’t. “And Dillon’s wife doesn’t let us use his place.” Of course she doesn’t. I roll my eyes and walk to my bedroom, slamming the door unintentionally. I change out of my scrubs and pull on a pair of jeans. I grab the shirt I slept in last night and just get it over my head when someone knocks on the door. I swing it open almost as dramatically as I slammed it earlier. He’s so tall. I didn’t realize how tall he was, but now that he’s standing in my doorway—filling it—he seems really tall. If he were to wrap his arms around me right now, my ear would press against his heart. Then his cheek would rest comfortably on top of my head. If he were to kiss me, I’d have to tilt my face up to meet his, but it would be nice, because he would probably wrap his arms around my lower back and pull me to him so that our mouths would come together like two pieces of a puzzle. Only they wouldn’t fit very well, because they are most definitely not two pieces from the same puzzle. Something strange is going on in my chest. A flutter, flutter kind of thing. I hate it, because I know what it means. It means my body is really starting to like Miles. I just hope my brain never catches up. “If you need quiet, you can go to my place,” he says. I cringe at the way his offer works knots into my stomach. I shouldn’t be excited about the possibility of being inside his apartment, but I am. “We’ll probably be here another two hours,” he adds. There’s regret in his voice somewhere. It would more than likely take a search party to locate it, but it’s buried there somewhere, beneath all the sultriness. I expel a quick, relinquishing breath. I’m being a bitch. This isn’t even my apartment. This is their thing that they obviously do on a regular basis, and who am I to think I can just move in and put a stop to it? “I’m just tired,” I say to him. “It’s fine. I’m sorry if I was rude to your friends.” “Friend,” he says as clarification. “Dillon is not my friend.” I don’t ask him what he means by that. He glances into the living room, then looks back at me. He leans against the frame of the door, an indication that my relinquishing the apartment for their game wasn’t the end of our conversation. He swings his eyes to the scrubs strewn across my mattress. “You got a job?” “Yeah,” I say, wondering why he’s suddenly up for conversation. “Registered nurse in an ER.” A crease appears on his forehead, and I can’t tell if it’s a result of confusion or fascination. “Aren’t you still in nursing school? How can you already work as an RN?” “I’m getting my master’s in nursing so I can work as a CRNA. I already have my RN license.” His expression is obstinate, so I clarify. “It allows me to administer anesthesia.” He stares at me for a few seconds before standing up straight and pushing off the doorframe. “Good for you,” he says. There’s no smile, though. Why doesn’t he ever smile? He walks back to the living room. I step out of the doorway and watch him. Miles takes his seat on the couch and gives the TV his full attention. Dillon is giving me his full attention, but I look away and head to the kitchen to find something to eat. There isn’t much, considering I haven’t cooked all week, so I grab all the stuff I need from the refrigerator in order to make a sandwich. When I turn around, Dillon is still staring. Only now he’s staring from about a foot away, instead of all the way from the living room. He smiles, then steps forward and reaches into the refrigerator, coming inches from my face. “So you’re Corbin’s little sis?” I think I’m with Miles on this one. I don’t much like Dillon, either. Dillon’s eyes aren’t anything like Miles’s eyes. When Miles looks at me, his eyes hide everything. Dillon’s eyes don’t hide anything, and right now, they’re clearly undressing me. “Yes,” I say simply as I make my way around him. I walk to the pantry and open it to look for the bread. Once I find it, I set it on the bar and begin making my sandwich. I lay out bread for an extra sandwich to take to Cap. He’s kind of grown on me in the little time I’ve lived here. I found out he works up to fourteen hours a day sometimes but only because he lives in the building alone and doesn’t have anything better to do. He seems to appreciate my company and especially gifts in the form of food, so until I make more friends here, I guess I’ll be spending my downtime with an eighty-year-old. Dillon casually leans against the counter. “You a nurse or something?” He opens his beer and brings it to his mouth but pauses before taking a drink. He wants me to answer him first. “Yep,” I say with a clipped voice. He smiles and takes a swig of his beer. I continue making my sandwiches, intentionally trying to appear closed off, but Dillon doesn’t seem to take the hint. He just continues to stare at me until my sandwiches are made. I’m not offering to make him a damn sandwich if that’s why he’s still here. “I’m a pilot,” he says. He doesn’t say it in a smug way, but when no one’s asking you what your occupation is, voluntarily contributing it to the conversation naturally comes off as smug. “I work at the same airline as Corbin.” He’s staring at me, waiting for me to be impressed by the fact that he’s a pilot. What he doesn’t realize is that all the men in my life are pilots. My grandfather was a pilot. My father was a pilot until he retired a few months ago. My brother is a pilot. “Dillon, if you’re trying to impress me, you’re going about it the wrong way. I much prefer a guy with a little more modesty and a lot less wife.” My eyes flash down to the wedding ring on his left hand. “Game just started,” Miles says, walking into the kitchen, directing his words toward Dillon. His words might be innocuous, but his eyes are definitely telling Dillon that he needs to return to the living room. Dillon sighs as if Miles just stripped away all his fun. “It’s good to see you again, Tate,” he says, acting as if the conversation would have come to an end whether Miles decided it should or not. “You should join us in the living room.” His eyes scroll over Miles, even though he’s speaking to me. “Apparently, the game just started.” Dillon straightens up and shoulders past Miles, heading back into the living room. Miles ignores Dillon’s display of annoyance and slides his hand into his back pocket, pulling out a key. He hands it to me. “Go study at my place.” It’s not a request. It’s a demand. “I’m fine studying here.” I set the key on the counter and put the lid back on the mayonnaise, refusing to be displaced from my own apartment by three boys. I wrap both sandwiches in a paper towel. “The TV isn’t even that loud.” He takes a step forward until he’s close enough to whisper. I’m pretty sure I’m leaving finger indentations on the bread, considering every single part of me, right down to my toes, just tensed. “I’m not fine with you studying here. Not until everyone leaves. Go. Take your sandwiches with you.” I look down at my sandwiches. I don’t know why I feel like he just insulted them. “They aren’t both for me,” I say defensively. “I’m taking one to Cap.” I look back up at him, and he’s doing that unfathomable staring thing again. With eyes like his, that should be illegal. I raise my eyebrows expectantly, because he’s making me feel really awkward. I’m not an exhibit, yet the way he watches me makes me feel like one. “You made a sandwich for Cap?” I nod. “Food makes him happy,” I say with a shrug. He studies the exhibit a little longer before leaning into me again. He grabs the key off the bar behind me and slides it into my front pocket. I’m not even sure if his fingers touched my jeans, but I inhale sharply and look down at my pocket as his hand pulls away, because holy hell, I wasn’t expecting that. I’m frozen while he’s casually making his way back into the living room, unaffected. It feels like my pocket is on fire. I persuade my feet to move, needing some time to process all of that. After delivering Cap’s sandwich, I do as Miles says and head over to his apartment. I go on my own accord, not because he wants me over there and not because I really do have a lot of homework but because the thought of being inside his apartment without him there is sadistically exciting to me. I feel like I’ve just been handed a free pass to all his secrets. ••• I should have known better than to think his apartment would give me any sort of glimpse into who he is. Not even his eyes can do that. Sure, it really is a lot quieter over here, and yeah, I’ve finished two solid hours of homework, but that’s only because there aren’t any distractions. At all. No paintings on the sterile white walls. No decorations. No color whatsoever. Even the solid oak table dividing the kitchen from the living room is undecorated. It’s so unlike the home I grew up in, where the kitchen table was the focal point of my mother’s entire house, complete with a table runner, an elaborate overhead chandelier, and plates to match whatever the current season was. Miles doesn’t even have a fruit bowl. The only impressive thing about this apartment is the bookshelf in the living room. It’s lined with dozens of books, which is more of a turn-on to me than anything else that could potentially line his barren walls. I walk over to the bookshelf to inspect his selection, hoping to get a glimpse of him based on his choice of literature. Row after row of aeronautical themed books is all I find. I’m a little disappointed that after a free inspection of his apartment, the best I can conclude is that he might be a workaholic with little to no taste in décor. I give up on the living room and walk into the kitchen. I open the refrigerator, but there’s hardly anything in it. There are a few takeout boxes. Condiments. Orange juice. It resembles Corbin’s refrigerator—empty and sad and so very bachelor. I open a cabinet, grab a cup, then pour myself some juice. I drink it and rinse the cup out in the sink. There are a few other dishes piled up on the left side of the sink, so I begin washing those, too. Even his plates and cups lack personality—plain and white and sad. I have the sudden urge to take my credit card straight to the store and buy him some curtains, a new set of vibrant dishes, a few paintings, and maybe even a plant or two. This place needs a little life. I wonder what his story is. I don’t think he has a girlfriend. I’ve yet to see him with one up to this point, and the apartment and obvious lack of a female’s touch make it a likely assumption. I don’t think a girl could walk into this apartment without decorating it at least a little bit before she left, so I’m assuming girls just never walk into this apartment. It makes me wonder about Corbin, too. All our years growing up together, he’s never been open about his relationships, but I’m pretty sure that’s because he’s never been in a relationship. Every time I’ve ever been introduced to a girl in his past, she never seems to make it through an entire week with him. I don’t know if that’s because he doesn’t like keeping someone around or if it’s a sign that he’s too difficult to be around. I’m sure it’s the former, based on the number of random phone calls he receives from women. Considering his abundance of one-night stands and lack of commitment, it confuses me how he could be so protective of me growing up. I guess he just knew himself too well. He didn’t want me dating guys like him. I wonder if Miles is a guy like Corbin. “Are you washing my dishes?” His voice catches me completely off guard, making me jump in my skin. I spin around and catch sight of a looming Miles, almost dropping the glass in my hands in the process. It slips, but I somehow manage to catch it before it crashes to the floor. I take a calming breath and set it down gently in the sink. “Finished my homework,” I say, swallowing the thickness that just swelled in my throat. I look at the dishes that are now in the strainer. “They were dirty.” He smiles. I think. Just as soon as his lips start to curl up, they mash back into a straight line. False alarm. “Everyone’s gone,” Miles says, giving me the all clear to vacate his premises. He notices the orange juice still out on the counter, so he picks it up and puts it back in the refrigerator. “Sorry,” I mutter. “I was thirsty.” He turns to face me and leans his shoulder into the refrigerator, folding his arms over his chest. “I don’t care if you drink my juice, Tate.” Oh, wow. That was an oddly sexy sentence. So was his presence in delivering it. Still no smile, though. Jesus Christ, this man. Does he not realize that facial expressions are supposed to accompany speech? I don’t want him to see my disappointment, so I turn back toward the sink. I use the sprayer to wash the remaining suds down the drain. I find it quite fitting, considering the weird vibes floating around his kitchen. “How long have you lived here?” I ask, attempting to alleviate the awkward silence as I turn and face him again. “Four years.” I don’t know why I laugh, but I do. He raises an eyebrow, confused about why his answer caused me to laugh. “It’s just that your apartment . . .” I glance toward the living room, then back to him. “It’s kind of bland. I thought maybe you just moved in and haven’t had a chance to decorate.” I didn’t mean for that to come out like an insult, but that’s exactly how it sounded. I’m just trying to make conversation, but I think I’m only making this awkwardness worse. His eyes move slowly around his apartment as he processes my comment. I wish I could take it back, but I don’t even try. I’d probably just make it worse. “I work a lot,” he says. “I never have company, so I guess it just hasn’t been a priority.” I want to ask him why he never has company, but certain questions seem off limits to him. “Speaking of company, what’s up with Dillon?” Miles shrugs his shoulders, leaning his back completely against the refrigerator. “Dillon’s an asshole who has no respect for his wife,” he says flatly. He turns around completely and walks out of the kitchen, heading toward his bedroom. He pushes his bedroom door closed but leaves it open just enough so that I can still hear him speak. “Thought I’d warn you before you fell for his act.” “I don’t fall for acts,” I say. “Especially acts like Dillon’s.” “Good,” he says. Good? Ha. Miles doesn’t want me to like Dillon. I love that Miles doesn’t want me to like Dillon. “Corbin wouldn’t like it if you started something up with him. He hates Dillon.” Oh. He doesn’t want me to like Dillon for Corbin’s sake. Why did that just disappoint me? He walks back out of his bedroom, and he’s no longer in his jeans and T-shirt. He’s in a familiar pair of slacks and a crisp, white shirt, unbuttoned and open. He’s putting on a pilot’s uniform. “You’re a pilot?” I ask, somewhat perplexed. My voice makes me sound oddly impressed. He nods and walks into the laundry room adjacent to the kitchen. “That’s how I know Corbin,” he says. “We were in flight school together.” He walks back into his kitchen with a laundry basket and sets it on the counter. “He’s a good guy.” His shirt isn’t buttoned. I’m staring at his stomach. Stop staring at his stomach. Oh my word, he has the V. Those beautiful indentations on men that run the length of their outer abdominal muscles, disappearing beneath their jeans as if the indentations are pointing to a secret bull’s-eye. Jesus Christ, Tate, you’re staring at his damn crotch! He’s buttoning his shirt now, so I somehow gain superhuman strength and force my eyes to look back up at his face. Thoughts. I should have some of those, but I can’t find them. Maybe it’s because I just found out he’s an airline pilot. But why would that impress me? It doesn’t impress me that Dillon’s a pilot. But then again, I didn’t find out Dillon was a pilot while he was doing laundry and flaunting his abs. A guy folding laundry while flaunting his abs and being a pilot is seriously impressive. Miles is fully dressed now. He’s putting on his shoes, and I’m watching him like I’m in a theater and he’s the main attraction. “Is that safe?” I ask, finding a coherent thought somehow. “You’ve been drinking with the guys, and now you’re about to be at the controls of a commercial jet?” Miles zips his jacket, then picks up an already packed duffel bag from the floor. “I’ve only had water tonight,” he says, right before exiting the kitchen. “I’m not much of a drinker. And I definitely don’t drink on work nights.” I laugh and follow him toward the living room. I walk to the table to grab my things. “I think you’re forgetting how we met,” I say. “Move-in day? Someone-passed-out-drunk-in-the-hallway day?” He opens the front door to let me out. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Tate,” he says. “We met on an elevator. Remember?” I can’t tell if he’s kidding, because there’s no smile or gleam in his eyes. He closes the door behind us. I hand him back his apartment key, and he locks his door. I walk to mine and open it. “Tate?” I almost pretend I don’t hear him just so he’ll have to say my name again. Instead, I turn around and face him, pretending to be completely unaffected by this man. “That night you found me in the hallway? That was an exception. A very rare exception.” There’s something unspoken in his eyes and maybe even in his voice. He stands paused at his front door, poised to walk toward the elevators. He’s waiting to see if I have anything to say in response. I should tell him good-bye. Maybe I should tell him to have a safe flight. That could be considered bad luck, though. I should just say good night. “Was the exception because of what happened with Rachel?” Yes. I really just chose to say that instead. WHY did I just say that? His posture changes. His expression freezes, as if my words jolted him with a bolt of lightning. He’s more than likely confused that I said that, because he obviously doesn’t remember anything about that night. Quick, Tate. Recover. “You thought I was someone named Rachel,” I blurt out, explaining away the awkwardness as best I can. “I just thought maybe something happened between the two of you and that’s why . . . you know.” Miles inhales a deep breath, but he tries to hide it. I hit a nerve. We don’t talk about Rachel, apparently. “Good night, Tate,” he says, turning away. I can’t tell what just happened. Did I embarrass him? Piss him off? Make him sad? Whatever I did, I hate this thing now. This awkwardness that’s filling the space between my door and the elevator he’s now standing in front of. I walk inside my apartment and close my door, but the awkwardness is everywhere. It didn’t remain out in the hallway. chapter six MILES Six years earlier We eat dinner, but it’s awkward. Lisa and Dad try to include us in the conversation, but neither of us is in the mood to talk. We stare at our plates. We push around the food with our forks. We don’t want to eat. Dad asks Lisa if she wants to go sit out back. Lisa says yes. Lisa asks Rachel to help me clear the table. Rachel says okay. We take the plates to the kitchen. We’re quiet. Rachel leans against the counter while I load the dishwasher. She watches me do my best to ignore her. She doesn’t realize she’s everywhere. She’s in everything. Every single thing has just become Rachel. It’s consuming me. My thoughts aren’t thoughts anymore. My thoughts are Rachel. I can’t fall in love with you, Rachel. I look at the sink. I want to look at Rachel. I breathe in air. I want to breathe in Rachel. I close my eyes. I only see Rachel. I wash my hands. I want to touch Rachel. I dry my hands on a towel before turning around to face her. Her hands are gripping the counter behind her. Mine are folded across my chest. “They’re the worst parents in the world,” she whispers. Her voice cracks. My heart cracks. “Despicable,” I say to her. She laughs. I’m not supposed to fall in love with your laugh, Rachel. She sighs. I fall in love with that, too. “How long have they been seeing each other?” I ask her. She’ll be honest. She shrugs. “About a year. It’s been long-distance until she moved us here to be closer to him.” I feel my mother’s heart breaking. We hate him. “A year?” I ask. “Are you sure?” She nods. She doesn’t know about my mother. I can tell. “Rachel?” I say her name out loud, just like I’ve wanted to do since the second I met her. She continues to look directly at me. She swallows, then breathes out a shallow “Yeah?” I step toward her. Her body reacts. She stands taller but not by much. She breathes heavier but not by much. Her cheeks grow redder but not by much. It’s all just enough. My hand fits her waist. My eyes search hers. They don’t tell me no, so I do. When my lips touch hers, it’s so many things. It’s good and bad and right and wrong and revenge. She inhales, stealing some of my breaths. I breathe into her, giving her more. Our tongues touch and our guilt intertwines and my fingers slide through the hair God made specifically for her. My new favorite flavor is Rachel. My new favorite thing is Rachel. I want Rachel for my birthday. I want Rachel for Christmas. I want Rachel for graduation. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. I’m gonna fall in love with you anyway, Rachel. The back door opens. I release Rachel. She releases me but only physically. I can still feel her in every other way. I look away from her, but everything is still Rachel. Lisa walks into the kitchen. She looks happy. She has a right to be happy. She’s not the one who died. Lisa tells Rachel it’s time to go. I tell them both good-bye, but my words are only for Rachel. She knows this. I finish the dishes. I tell my father Lisa was nice. I don’t tell him I hate him yet. Maybe I never will. I don’t know what good it would do to let him know that I don’t see him the same way anymore. Now he’s just . . . normal. Human. Maybe that’s the rite of passage before you become a man—realizing your father doesn’t have life figured out any more than you do. I go to my room. I take out my phone, and I text Rachel. Me: What do we do about tomorrow night? Rachel: We lie to them? Me: Can you meet me at seven? Rachel: Yes. Me: Rachel? Rachel: Yeah? Me: Good night. Rachel: Good night, Miles. I turn off my phone, because I want that to be the last text I receive for the night. I close my eyes. I’m falling, Rachel. chapter seven TATE It’s been two weeks since I’ve seen Miles but only two seconds since the last time I’ve thought about him. He seems to work just as much as Corbin does, and while it’s nice to have the place to myself occasionally, it’s also nice when Corbin isn’t working and there’s actually someone to talk to. I would say it’s nice when Corbin and Miles are both off work, but that hasn’t happened since I’ve lived here. Until now. “His dad is working, and he’s off until Monday,” Corbin says. I had no idea he’d invited Miles to come back home with us for Thanksgiving until just now. He’s knocking on Miles’s apartment door. “He doesn’t have anything else to do.” I’m pretty sure I nod after hearing those words, but I turn and walk straight toward the elevator. I’m afraid that when Miles opens his door, my excitement over the fact that he’s coming with us will be transparent. I’m on the elevator, at the far back wall, when they both step on. Miles finds me and nods, but that’s all I get. The last time I spoke to him, I made things completely awkward between us, so I don’t say a word. I also try not to stare at him, but it’s extremely difficult to focus on anything else. He’s casually dressed in a baseball cap, jeans, and a 49ers T-shirt. I think that’s why I find him hard to look away from, though, because I’ve always found guys more attractive when they put less effort into trying to appear attractive. My eyes leave his clothes and meet his concentrated stare. I don’t know whether to smile in embarrassment or look away, so I just choose to copy his next move, waiting for him to look away first. He doesn’t. He continues to watch me in silence for the remainder of the elevator ride, and I stubbornly do the same. When we finally make it to the ground floor, I’m relieved he steps off first, because I have to inhale a pretty noticeable breath, considering I haven’t inhaled in at least sixty seconds. “Where you three headed?” Cap asks once we’re all off the elevator. “Home to San Diego,” Corbin says. “You have any plans for Thanksgiving?” “Gonna be a busy day for flights,” Cap says. “Reckon I’ll be here working.” He winks in my direction, and I wink back before he shifts his attention toward Miles. “How about you, boy? You headed home yourself?” Miles silently watches Cap in the same way he silently stared at me on the elevator. This disappoints me tremendously, because on the elevator, I had a small glimmer of hope that Miles was staring at me like he was because he feels the same pull to me that I feel when I’m around him. But now, watching his visual standoff with Cap, I’m almost certain it doesn’t mean Miles is attracted to a person simply because he stares unabashedly. Miles apparently just looks at everyone this way. A very silent and awkward five seconds follows, with neither of them speaking. Maybe Miles doesn’t like being referred to as “boy”? “Have a good Thanksgiving, Cap,” Miles finally utters, not even bothering to answer Cap’s question. He turns and begins walking through the lobby with Corbin. I look at Cap and shrug my shoulders. “Wish me luck,” I say quietly. “Seems Mr. Archer might be having another bad day.” Cap smiles. “Nah,” he says, backing up a step toward his chair. “Some people just don’t like questions is all.” He falls into his chair. He gives me a farewell salute, and I salute him back before walking toward the exit. I can’t tell if Cap excuses Miles’s rude behavior because he likes Miles or if he just makes excuses for everyone. “I’ll drive there if you want,” Miles says to Corbin when we all reach the car. “I know you haven’t slept yet. You can drive back tomorrow.” Corbin agrees, and Miles opens the driver’s-side door. I climb into the backseat and try to figure out where to sit. I don’t know if I should sit directly behind Miles, in the middle, or behind Corbin. Anywhere I sit, I’ll feel him. He’s everywhere. Everything is Miles. That’s how it is when a person develops an attraction toward someone. He’s nowhere, then suddenly he’s everywhere, whether you want him to be or not. It makes me wonder if I’m anywhere to him, but the thought doesn’t last long. I can tell when a guy is attracted to me, and Miles definitely does not fall into that category. Which is why I need to figure out how to stop whatever this is I feel when I’m around him. The last thing I want right now is a silly crush on a guy when I’ve barely got time to focus on both work and school. I pull a paperback out of my purse and begin to read. Miles turns on the radio, and Corbin lays his seat back and kicks his feet up on the dash. “Don’t wake me up until we’re there,” he says, pulling his cap over his eyes. I glance at Miles, and he’s adjusting his rearview mirror. He turns around and looks behind us to back out of the spot, and his eyes briefly meet mine. “You comfortable?” he asks. He turns around before getting my answer and puts the car in drive, then glances at me in the rearview mirror. “Yep,” I say. I make sure to tack a smile onto the end of that word. I don’t want him to think I’m upset that he came, but it’s hard for me not to appear closed off when I’m around him, since I’m trying so hard to be. He looks straight ahead, and I look back down at my book. Thirty minutes pass, and the movement of the car accompanied by my attempt to read is making my head hurt. I set the book down beside me and readjust myself in the backseat. I lean my head back and prop my feet up on the console between Miles and Corbin. He glances at me in the rearview mirror, and his eyes feel like they’re hands, running over every inch of me. He holds his stare for no longer than two seconds, then looks back at the road. I hate this. I have no idea what’s going through his head. He never smiles. He never laughs. He doesn’t flirt. His face appears as if he keeps a constant veil of armor between his expressions and the rest of the world. I’ve always been a sucker for the quiet types of guys. Primarily because most guys talk too much, and it’s painful having to suffer through every single thought that goes through their heads. Miles makes me wish he were the opposite of the quiet type, though. I want to know all the thoughts that pass through his head. Especially the one thought that’s in there right now, hiding behind that unwavering, stoic expression. I’m still staring at him in the rearview mirror, trying to figure him out, when he glances at me again. I look down at my phone, a little embarrassed that he caught me staring at him. But that mirror is like a magnet, and dammit if my eyes don’t shoot back up to it. The second I look into the mirror again, so does he. I look back down. Shit. This drive is about to be the longest drive of my entire life. I make it three minutes, then I look again. Shit. So does he. I smile, amused by whatever game this is we’re playing. He smiles, too. He. Smiles. Too. Miles looks back at the road, but his smile remains for several seconds. I know, because I can’t stop staring at it. I want to take a picture of it before it disappears again, but that would be weird. He lowers his arm to rest it on the console, but my feet are in his way. I push up on my hands. “Sorry,” I say, as I begin to pull them back. His fingers wrap around my bare foot, stopping me. “You’re fine,” he says. His hand is still wrapped around my foot. I’m staring at it. Holy hell, his thumb just moved. Deliberately moved, stroking the side of my foot. My thighs clench together and my breath halts in my lungs and my legs tense, because I’ll be damned if his hand didn’t just caress my foot before he pulled it away. I have to chew on the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. I think you’re attracted to me, Miles. ••• As soon as we arrive at my parents’ place, my father puts Corbin and Miles to work hanging Christmas lights. I take our things into the house and give Corbin and Miles my room, since it’s the only one with two beds. I take Corbin’s old bedroom, then head to the kitchen to help my mom finish prepping dinner. Thanksgiving has always been a small affair at our house. Mom and Dad didn’t like having to choose between families, and my dad was hardly ever home, since a pilot’s busiest times of year are the holidays. My mother decided Thanksgiving would be reserved for immediate family only, so every year on Thanksgiving Day, it’s always just been me, Corbin, Mom, and Dad, when Dad is home. Last year, it was just Mom and me, since Dad and Corbin were both working. This year, it’s all of us. And Miles. It’s strange, him being here like this. Mom seemed happy to meet him, so I guess she didn’t mind too much. My dad loves everyone, and he’s more than happy to have someone else helping with the Christmas lights, so I know the presence of a third person doesn’t bother him in the least. My mother passes me the pan of boiled eggs. I begin cracking them to prepare them for deviled eggs, and she leans across the kitchen island and rests her chin in her hands. “That Miles sure is a looker,” she says with an arch of her eyebrow. Let me explain something about my mother. She’s a great mom. A really great mom. But I have never been comfortable talking to her about guys. It started when I was twelve and I got my first period. She was so excited she called three of her friends to tell them before she even explained what the hell was happening to me. I learned pretty early on that secrets aren’t secrets once they reach her ears. “He’s not bad,” I say, completely lying. I’m absolutely lying, because he is a looker. His golden-brown hair paired with those mesmerizing blue eyes, his broad shoulders, the scruff that lines his firm jaw when he’s had a couple of days off work, the way he always smells so fantastically delicious, like he just stepped out of the shower and hasn’t even towel-dried yet. Oh, my God. Who the hell am I right now? “Does he have a girlfriend?” I shrug. “I don’t really know him, Mom.” I take the pan to the sink and run water over the eggs to loosen the shells. “How is Dad liking retirement?” I ask, attempting to change the subject. My mother grins. It’s a knowing grin, and I absolutely hate it. I guess I never have to tell her anything, because she’s my mom. She already knows. I blush, then turn around and finish cracking the damn eggs. chapter eight MILES Six years earlier “I’m going to Ian’s tonight,” I tell him. My father doesn’t care. He’s going out with Lisa. His mind is on Lisa. His everything is Lisa. His everything used to be Carol. Sometimes his everything was Carol and Miles. Now his everything is Lisa. That’s okay, because my everything used to be him and Carol. Not anymore. I text her to see if she can meet me somewhere. She says Lisa just left to come to my house. She says I can come to her house and pick her up. When I get there, I don’t know if I should get out of the car. I don’t know if she wants me to. I do. I walk to her door, and I knock. I’m not sure what to say when she opens the door. Part of me wants to tell her I’m sorry, that I shouldn’t have kissed her. Part of me wants to ask her a million questions until I know everything about her. Most of me wants to kiss her again, especially now that the door is open and she’s standing right in front of me. “Want to come in for a little while?” she asks. “She won’t be back for a few hours, at least.” I nod. I wonder if she loves my nod as much as I love hers. She shuts the door behind me, and I look around. Their apartment is small. I’ve never lived in a place this small. I think I like it. The smaller the house, the more a family is forced to love one another. They have no extra space not to. It makes me wish my dad and I would get a smaller place. A place where we’d be forced to interact. A place where we’d stop having to pretend that my mother didn’t leave way too much space in our house after she died. Rachel walks to the kitchen. She asks me if I want something to drink. I follow her and ask her what she has. She tells me she has pretty much everything except milk, tea, soda, coffee, juice, and alcohol. “I hope you like water,” she says. She laughs at herself. I laugh with her. “Water is perfect. Would have been my first choice.” She gets us each a glass of water. We lean against opposite counters. We stare at each other. I shouldn’t have kissed her last night. “I shouldn’t have kissed you, Rachel.” “I shouldn’t have let you,” she tells me. We stare at each other some more. I’m wondering if she would let me kiss her again. I’m wondering if I should leave. “It’ll be easy to stop this,” I say. I’m lying. “No, it won’t,” she says. She’s telling the truth. “You think they’ll get married?” She nods. For some reason, I don’t love this nod as much. I don’t love the question it’s answering. “Miles?” She looks down at her feet. She says my name like it’s a gun and she’s firing a warning shot and I’m supposed to run. I sprint. “What?” “We only rented the apartment for a month. I overheard her on the phone with him yesterday.” She looks back up at me. “We’re moving in with you in two weeks.” I trip over the hurdle. She’s moving in with me. She’ll be living in my house. Her mother is going to fill all my mother’s empty spaces. I close my eyes. I still see Rachel. I open my eyes. I stare at Rachel. I turn around and grip the counter. I let my head fall between my shoulders. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to like her. I don’t want to fall in love with you, Rachel. I’m not stupid. I know how lust works. Lust wants what lust can’t have. Lust wants me to have Rachel. Reasoning wants Rachel to go away. I take Reasoning’s side, and I turn to face Rachel again. “This won’t go anywhere,” I tell her. “This thing with us. It won’t end well.” “I know,” she whispers. “How do we stop it?” I ask her. She looks at me, hoping I’ll answer my own question. I can’t. Silence. Silence. Silence. LOUD, DEAFENING SILENCE. I want to cover my ears with my hands. I want to cover my heart with armor. I don’t even know you, Rachel. “I should leave,” I say. She tells me okay. “I can’t,” I whisper. She tells me okay. We stare at each other. Maybe if I stare at her enough, I’ll get tired of staring at her. I want to taste her again. Maybe if I taste her enough, I’ll get tired of tasting her. She doesn’t wait for me to reach her. She meets me halfway. I grab her face and she grabs my arms, and our guilt collides when our mouths collide. We lie to ourselves about the truth. We tell ourselves we’ve got this . . . when we don’t have it at all. My skin feels better with her touching it. My hair feels better with her hands in it. My mouth feels better with her tongue inside of it. I wish we could breathe like this. Live like this. Life would feel better with her like this. Her back is against the refrigerator now. My hands are beside her head. I pull away and look at her. “I want to ask you a million questions,” I say to her. She smiles. “I guess you’d better get started.” “Where are you going to college?” “Michigan,” she says. “What about you?” “Staying here to get my bachelor’s, and then my best friend, Ian, and I are going to flight school. I want to be a pilot. What do you want to be?” “Happy,” she says with a smile. That’s the perfect answer. “When’s your birthday?” I ask her. “January third,” she says. “I’ll be eighteen. When’s yours?” “Tomorrow,” I tell her. “I’ll be eighteen.” She doesn’t believe that my birthday is tomorrow. I show her my ID. She tells me happy early birthday. She kisses me again. “What happens if they get married?” I ask her. “They’ll never approve of us being together, even if they don’t get married.” She’s right. It would be hard to explain to their friends. Hard to explain to the rest of the family. “So what’s the point of continuing this if we know it won’t end well?” I ask her. “Because we don’t know how to stop.” She’s right. “You’re going to Michigan in seven months, and I’ll be here in San Francisco. Maybe that’s our answer.” She nods. “Seven months?” I nod. I touch her lips with my finger, because her lips are the kind of lips that need appreciating, even when they aren’t being kissed. “We do this for seven months. We don’t tell anyone. Then . . .” I stop talking, because I don’t know how to say the words We stop. “Then we stop,” she whispers. “Then we stop,” I agree. She nods, and I can actually hear our countdown begin. I kiss her, and it feels even better now that we have a plan. “We’ve got this, Rachel.” She smiles in agreement. “We’ve got this, Miles.” I give her mouth the appreciation it deserves. I’m gonna love you for seven months, Rachel. chapter nine TATE “Nurse!” Corbin yells. He walks into the kitchen, and Miles is following behind him. Corbin steps aside and points toward Miles. His hand is covered in blood. It’s dripping. Miles is looking at me like I’m supposed to know what to do. This isn’t an ER. This is my mom’s kitchen. “A little help here?” Miles says, gripping his wrist tightly. His blood is dripping all over the floor. “Mom!” I yell. “Where’s your first-aid kit?” I’m opening cabinets, trying to find it. “Downstairs bathroom! Under the sink!” she yells. I point toward the bathroom, and Miles follows me. I open the cabinet and pull out the kit. Closing the lid on the toilet, I direct Miles to take a seat, then I sit on the edge of the tub and pull his hand to me. “What’d you do?” I begin to clean it and inspect the cut. It’s deep, right across the center of his palm. “Grabbed the ladder. It was falling.” I shake my head. “You should have just let it fall.” “I couldn’t,” he says. “Corbin was on it.” I look up at him, and he’s watching me with those contrastingly intense blue eyes of his. I look back down at his hand. “You need stitches.” “You sure?” “Yeah,” I say. “I can drive you to the ER.” “Can’t you just stitch it up here?” I shake my head. “I don’t have the right supplies. I need sutures. It’s pretty deep.” He uses his other hand to rifle through the first-aid kit. He pulls out a spool of thread and hands it to me. “Do your best.” “It’s not like I’m sewing on a damn button, Miles.” “I’m not spending the whole day in an emergency room for a cut. Just do what you can. I’ll be fine.” I don’t want him to spend the day in an emergency room, either. That means he wouldn’t be here. “If your hand gets infected and you die, I’m denying any part in this.” “If my hand gets infected and I die, I’d be too dead to blame you.” “Good point,” I say. I clean his wound again, then take the supplies I’ll need and lay them out on the counter. I can’t get a good angle with how we’re positioned, so I stand up and prop my leg on the edge of the tub. I put his hand on my leg. I put his hand on my leg. Oh, hell. This isn’t gonna work with his arm draped across my leg like this. If I want my hands to remain calm and not shake, I’m going to need to reposition us. “This won’t work,” I say, turning to face him. I take his hand and rest it on the counter, then stand directly in front of him. The other way worked better, but I can’t have him touching my leg while I do this. “It’s gonna hurt,” I warn. He laughs as though he knows pain and to him, this isn’t pain. I pierce his skin with the needle, and he doesn’t even flinch. He doesn’t make a sound. He watches me work quietly. Every now and then, he looks up from my hand and watches my face. We don’t speak, like always. I try to ignore him. I try to focus on his hand and his wound and how it desperately needs to be closed, but our faces a