Authors: Lizzy Charles
Gina shrugs. “I like sex, okay? I have a list of guys-- kind of like that celebrity top list. An A-list. That’s all.”
My gut twists and there’s a question I’ve got to ask. “Gina, how many guys are on your A-list?”
“Not including celebrities? Ten.” She throws her hair up in a messy bun on top of her head. “With celebrities, an even twenty.”
“And how many have you checked off?”
“Now?...Nine. Jake’s my last one.”
Well, after how that cowboy shoved his tongue down my throat downstairs, I have no doubt he’ll be up for it.
“Nine. Wow. I assume that includes Peter and Josh?” She nods and I raise an eyebrow. “Plus the guy in the club on New Years?”
“Oh my god.” Gina pushes past me and opens the door. “Don’t even think about giving me a lecture about my sex life.”
“Gina, I’m not. It’s only… it doesn’t sound safe.”
“Oh hell, you started it all. I took your advice. I disconnect and I have fun.” She pushes past me down the hallway, but I catch up, blocking her way.
“I didn’t mean it like that though, not just randomly sleeping around. You can hurt someone. You can hurt yourself.”
Her face doesn’t even change, no hint of understanding. Finally, she narrows her eyes at me in the mirror, then looks down to adjust her dress. Dude! It’s not my fault I ruined her buzz because I’m concerned about her well-being.
“Will you move? I hear Jake’s around.” She says, glancing at the door behind me.
Oh my gosh. She’s an early version of the woman who flirted with Dad when he was weak. It’s only a matter of years before she ruins a marriage if she views sex as a check list.
“Autumn. You need to chill out. I know you’ve been through a lot this summer with the fire and all, but I’m not loving this sentimental crap. When you’re around Colt, you act like you’re a total fool. Drooling all over him, watching every step, sighing with his touch. Now
“What Colt and I have is different. It’s uncomplicated. I’m trying to keep it that way.” My gut sinks. That’s not true. Tonight I was trying to complicate it. A lot.
“Well,” She smiles in a slow, evil way. “Does he know about what you did last summer? About your summer of
“He knows I’m not a virgin. I don’t keep secrets.”
“Well, does he know you’re not a virgin like… thirty-seven times?”
“No, why would I tell him that? It was with the same guy, and that's none of his business.”
“Still, thirty-seven times. That’s a lot. I haven’t even hit that number yet.” She nods over my shoulder. “Oh, hey Colt.”
A hand rests on my shoulder, and my stomach crashes through the floor.
“Thirty-seven times, Autumn?” he asks, his voice soft.
My jaw dangles. I don’t know what to say. It was a full summer of nothing to do. That’s only a few times a day. Any horny teenage guy can make that happen, but I can’t tell him that. He’d never understand with his ability to restrain from me. He’s got supernatural virgin strength or something.
Gina pushes past me now and I curl in my fists, taking a deep breath. She’s supposed to be my best friend—how could she say that in front of him? It takes all my restraint to not throw her against the wall. I cling to the fact I can smell the alcohol on her. This isn’t her—she’s drunk right now.
“Oh, and Autumn?” She spins. “Colt was number one on my list. I checked him off last summer.”
hangs thick between us with Gina gone. My jaw’s still open. I can barely make sense of it all. Checked off? As in…
Colt lifts his hand from my shoulder and the absence of his warmth numbs my core. Colt and Gina? I look up at him. He’s got a swollen eye and dried blood under his nose.
“I thought you were a virgin,” I whisper.
“Thirty-seven times,” he says. “Thirty-seven times.”
“You slept with Gina? How could you not tell me that?”
He doesn’t answer. I touch him, but he pulls away.
“Colt, you lied.”
Again, there’s no answer and suddenly my mind snaps. I’m up in his face, shoving him against the wall. “You lied to me. Why didn’t you tell me?
! She’s my best friend.”
His glaring stare scares me. “She’s a user and a slut, and, apparently, so are you. Thirty-seven times. My God.” He turns away. The air between us freezes as he leaves me behind, walking down the stairs.
“Me?” I shout as I race down the steps. “Are you kidding? If you slept with her…” Oh god. How many other girls has he slept with too?
He slams the front door. I yank it open, running out as he’s climbs in his truck.
“How many girls, Colt?” I run into the gravel driveway and bang on his truck. “How many girls have you slept with?”
“Seven,” he shrugs, like it’s no big deal.
Somehow, I’m still standing while everything in me shatters.
“And you think I’m a whore?”
“Thirty-seven times? Yeah. For sure.”
The engine roars to life as he peels out of the drive. I kick the gravel high into the air. He slept with seven girls and he thinks he has the right to be pissed over me sleeping with one guy. Hypocrite.
A sob erupts from deep in my chest as that horrible corner of my mind stirs. So what’s wrong with me? Why wasn’t I good enough for him?
He’s been misleading me, playing a stupid game.
Faking good and pure.
Every time his hand rested on my back, I thought we had something real. He made me feel safe, but it was built on a filthy lie. One I believed. I tried to respect his decision. Hell, even earlier tonight, I wouldn’t have gone all the way. I wasn’t going to ruin his dream of purity. I’m not that horrible.
How could Colt act like this with me, the whole time knowing he’s living a lie?
Seven girls. Hell, it’s probably even more!
No. I take a deep breath but another sob escapes. I can’t let myself think this way. Screw him. I’m glad he never touched me. There’s no sense sullying my record with a terrible thirty-eighth. I turn back around to go back to the house, but stop as most of the party watches me from the porch.
Oh, God. Kill me now.
“Autumn?” Peter, Gina’s first sexual conquest of the summer, walks over, taking my hand and turning me by my elbow so I’m not facing the crowd. “Do you need a ride home?”
I want to say no, that I’m fine, but I'm clueless to where I am. It never occurred to me to watch the markers on the road.
He gives my shoulder a squeeze. “Or I could call Chris for you?”
“No, thanks.” Dad finding me here, deserted at a house party, is not an option. I wouldn’t even know how to explain everything. “I’d love a ride. Which one’s yours?” Hick-trucks and rusted out cars are scattered across the drive. I’m a fool for not having my license. My own nice truck, sits ignored and untouched in Colt’s driveway.
When we arrive at Colt’s, the front porch lights glow. I pray the door is unlocked. I didn’t bring my keys because Colt had his set. Seriously, I could scream at my own stupidity! A silhouette stands on the porch, giving Peter a wave as I climb out of the truck and up the front steps. For once, Dad’s habit of sitting alone on the porch comes in handy.
“Autumn?” he calls out. “Where’s Colt?”
“I don’t know.” I slide past him, hoping he won’t catch my swollen, tear-streaked face.
“Wait,” he takes my arm and pulls me back. “What happened?”
“No, this isn’t nothing. Did he hurt you? Did he touch you?”
No, and no. Not anything more than a kiss. But he’s an ass, so now I don’t care.
“Autumn, what’s going on?” He lifts my chin slightly so I have to look him in the eye. “Did he cheat on you?”
And then I crumble.
That’s it. I’m done.
“He cheated on you? I’m going to kill him.” Dad says as he pulls me into a hug. “Where is he?”
“No.” I say through sobs. “He didn’t cheat, not really.”
“Autumn, listen, I know you never defined your relationship with him, but you were in a relationship.”
“No, I mean, he didn’t cheat. No other girls.” I pull away from him, hiding in my hand. “Not now, at least.”
“What do you mean, not now?”
“Nothing. I just.… Nothing.”
“So he didn’t cheat?”
“Did he hurt you?”
Dad nods, putting his hand on my shoulder as he opens the door. The lights are on inside now, thanks to Grace walking down the stairs.
“But he broke your heart?”
“Yeah.” I say and then a sob escapes.
“That’s even worse,” Dad says under his breath as he leads me inside while Grace stands on the steps, her brow furrowed.
“Where’s Colt?” she asks, and the question makes my whole body heave. He left me. He abandoned me.
“Yeah.” Dad sighs.
“I’m waiting up,” she says.
“That’s fine. I’ll take Autumn upstairs.”
“No-its-okay” I say in one breath. I just need to hide to make it all stop. I haven’t cried like this since my first night away from Dad, curled up and sobbing in my new city bedroom.
“No, Autumn. You’re not fine. Let me help you.”
My mind abandons me, reason gone. With his offer, I crumble in his arms. “I’m sorry,” I say as he helps me walk up the stairs.
“Don’t apologize. This is what I’m here for.”
He opens the bedroom door and I lie face down, hiding my face in Colt’s pillow. He sits next to me, his hand steady on my arm. “What happened to your back?” He lifts the fabric off my back. I suck in a breath, trying not to howl. I try to tell him about the dance floor, but it all comes out jumbled. Thinking about Colt defending me when he’s been lying all along is so confusing. The words fall out as sobs.
“It’s okay,” he says. “Crying is never bad.” I think I hear him sniff while I sob. His reaction is like a tornado ripping down the wall into my soul.
Dad’s here, caring in a way Mom never would. I love Mom, but she’s distant. It’s not her fault. She’s so proud of my independence in the city so I like to prove her right. If I dried my tears with her sweater, she’d worry too much and maybe back off of her career. I’d never do that to her.
But here, Dad is available and all the tears I’ve hidden in my bones actualize.
I cry for when we drove away seven years ago. I cry for him missing all my birthdays, concerts, and bad days.
I cry for Gina.… What happened to us?
I cry for last summer’s fling. The feelings I had forced myself to forget pour out. Somehow, despite our just-sex rule, part of me had fallen for him- my Egyptian guy. Then August hit, and after packing a suitcase and a kiss in the hallway, he was gone. He never even gave me an email address to keep in touch.
I cry for Colt and the warm spot on my back. My heart twists in agony as I picture him with each girl. His nights of crazy love making, hitting up parties, and just having fun. It makes me sick. I heave and Dad holds back my hair while I vomit.
I don’t know what to do. It’s okay to have a past. He’s entitled to that. But in fooling me into believing he’s a virgin, I don’t know if anything we have is real.
And it sucks.
Dad brushes my hair. “Take a deep breath, Bug.”
And then I cry because I know now I have to leave this place. It burns in my core because there was part of me that held out hope that I’d find a real reason to stay, to be part of this good, steady life that makes sense. Now staying is impossible. Then I imagine leaving, and it’s a circle. Again, I cry for being forced to leave seven years before. I cry and cry until my body puts me out of my misery and I finally sleep.
I wake to a knock on the door. Dad sleeps, leaning against the wall.
“Chris?” Grace asks. “Are you awake?”
Dad coughs, “Yeah, one sec.” He stands up and steps into the hall, closing the door. A moment later it opens.
“Autumn,” Dad says. I lift my head off the pillow. “Colt’s still not home and his phone went dead. Grace is worried. Any ideas of where he may be?”
“No,” I say. I hope he never returns.
“Are you sure?”
“Please.” Grace steps in, her eyes swollen with tears. “I just… I need to know. I’ve been through this before.”
And then I remember her husband died drunk. He probably never showed up and eventually they got the phone call, or the police man on their front porch.
“Okay,” I say. “Just let me think.” My mind itches, and the scene comes to me like a painting, colors bleeding into a tree--his favorite spot. “I don’t know where it is exactly, but he’s at a place on the ranch where there’s this lone mega tree and an open horizon.”
Grace puts her finger to her nose, tapping it as she thinks. Finally, her eyes widen. “Chris, you took us on a tour when we first moved here. We had a picnic, remember? That’s got to be the biggest tree on your land.”
“Yes, of course. Marker twenty-three and five thirty-six, take a right up the hill.”
“Thank you. I’ll give you a call when I find him, all right?”
Dad follows her downstairs so she can use his truck since it has air conditioning. I drag myself from bed and into the shower. My head bangs and my eyes ache. Crying all night long is worse than a hangover. I’m glad Colt’s gone. It saves me from avoiding him all morning. I already feel bad enough, but then my gut twists and I feel sorry for Grace. Colt could have at least answered his phone before it died. He doesn’t have to be a total jerk to everyone. Grace doesn’t deserve that.
I finish showering and get dressed, ready to leave. There's no way I'll be in this house when Colt returns. I refuse to be near anyone who makes me feel this way.
“Going somewhere?” Dad asks as I walk down the stairs. He’s got a suitcase on the couch, packing it with the few clothes we own.
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“Grace found Colt,” he explains. “We had a talk. We think it's best you two don’t live in the same place right now.” He waits, judging my reaction. I give a shrug. He nods. “Todd offered space for us.”
“But isn’t this technically your house?”
, folding one of my shirts that I’d left in the laundry. “Yes. Colt and Grace offered to leave, but I couldn’t do that to them. Our place will be finished in a few months. If it gets too cramped at Todd’s, we’ll figure something else out.”
“Sure,” I say as I take a seat on the couch. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“No one plans these things. This isn’t your fault. It’s Colt’s wish, not yours.”
I stare at a paper bag he’s filled with his bathroom supplies. Is Colt really that repulsed by me that he can’t see my face? How can he even compare our offenses?
“All that’s left to do is to grab your stuff from the shower and then we’re ready to go.”
“You already got everything from my room?”
“You took a long shower.” He shrugs. “Don’t worry about it. I’m happy to help.”
Todd’s house is small and freakishly clean. Todd’s cleared out his office to make a bedroom for me. The neon mattress below me squeaks as I shift position, trying to stay off my back. I go in and out of sleep, trying to escape the pain in my heart. Every time I wake up, the walls filled with Todd’s family photos remind me there’s nothing left for me here.
Dad brings my dinner to my room. “Colt called. He wants to quit.”