Just when she had finally moved on…
…He moved back.
When college freshman Liz Wagner hears her ex's voice for the first time since he moved clear across the freaking country, she does what any respectable girl would do: Dive into the girls' bathroom.
Zach Roberts—the Zach Roberts—is back. And he’s everywhere Liz looks—infiltrating her friend group, buddy-buddy with her brother. It’s enough to ruin college altogether. But what choice does she have but to put on a happy face and pretend he didn't leave her vulnerable and alone in a pile of emotional wreckage?
Pretending works, until tragedy strikes and the only person available for comfort is the one person she wants to stay away from. When Zach turns out not to be the jerk she convinced herself he was, but the boy she used to love, Liz needs to decide whether to open her heart again to the boy who tore it out.
To my parents, John and Carol, for always having faith in me even when I didn’t.
I’ve never been bitch slapped. Technically. But after the last few months I can imagine how it feels. If life had hands, its fingers would have imprinted on my cheek.
Two weeks into my first semester at Farmingdale State, I walked into the English building like I always did with my best friend, Sadie, on my right and my boyfriend, Joe, on my left.
Joe’s fingers interlocked with mine, and I leaned my head against his narrow shoulder. When he told me he’d be attending the same college as me I nearly tackled him. It made up for the disappointment of not making it into my dream school.
Sadie strutted beside us, black hair accented by a braided headband, falling in waves on her shoulders. Emerald chandelier earrings that her parents bought her on their last trip to India swayed with each step.
Joe released my hand as we got closer to our group of new and old friends. He needed it free for high fiving and back patting.
Nothing seemed off. The halls were filled with people, their voices no louder than usual, but as we closed in on my Principles of Writing class, I realized there was someone who didn’t belong.
At least not anymore.
He was taller, his arms bigger, his hair not as messy as I remembered, but those dark brown eyes were exactly the same. He was standing against the wall, his t-shirt hugging biceps that were nonexistent last time I saw him, and he was talking to my friends. Some of the same friends we’d shared before he left.
My stomach twisted in knots when over the din of the hallway chaos, I heard his voice. I kept my head up and tried to ignore the fact he was back, but when his head turned towards me, I panicked. Without a single word to either Sadie or Joe, I dove into the girls’ bathroom.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror, shocked to see the tears building. It had been over a year, yet as soon as my eyes settled on him, every emotion I felt a year ago flooded back into me.
“Liz?” Sadie’s voice drifted into the bathroom. Her heels clicked on the tile until she came to a stop beside me. “Oh my God! Did you know Zach was here? Of all places? When did that happen? I mean, I never thought we’d see him again.” She paused and then rested her hand on my shoulder. Her other hand brushed the blond highlights out of my face. “Liz? Are you okay?”
My grip tightened on the sink, my hazel eyes unfocused. It had taken me a long time—too long—to get over Zach, and when I’d finally moved on, he showed up at
college, instantly transporting me back to our junior year of high school. I tried to fight the memories from flooding my mind, but it was no use. I was already back to that day on the football field.
I had wondered why I couldn’t be like every other girl drooling over the quarterback. No, my eyes drifted to the boy at his side, the one who handed him the microphone. There was something about him. His curly mess of brown hair, his lanky frame and his size-too-big clothes made quarterback Smith Johnson completely invisible to me.
“Hello?” Sadie snapped her fingers in front of my face, bringing me back to the English building’s girls’ bathroom. “Welcome back. You had me nervous for a second there. I was about to throw water in your face, but I didn’t know if you had on waterproof mascara.”
Prime example of why this girl was my best friend.
“Do you think he saw me?”
“I don’t know. You dove in here so fast, I’d be surprised if he did.”
I nodded, unable to do anything else. The last thing I expected was to see Zach again. For months I had waited to hear his voice or see his face, but I’d finally accepted the fact that he’d probably met someone else and moved on. It had been over a year since he’d left. The summer before senior year of high school was the last time I’d seen Zach in person.
“So, are you going to ask him?”
“Ask him what?” I had nothing to say to him and I sure as hell did not want to see his stupid face.
“Why he stopped calling?”
I flashed my death stare.
“What? You have the right to know why he didn’t have the decency to break up with you.”
I flashed the same look but with a little more intensity. She raised her hands in front of me in surrender, bangles sliding down her wrists. “I’m just saying. It wouldn’t have killed him to pick up the damn phone.”
“Can we just not talk about this?” I turned back to the mirror and massaged my temples, hoping to rid my mind of all things Zach.
Sadie planted her hands firmly on her hips. “Fine, but if you don’t ask him, I will.”
“No!” My hands fell from my head, and I met her gray eyes in the mirror. “Sadie, no, please.”
The gray of her eyes disappeared as they rolled behind her eyelids. She crossed her arms and shook her head. “I watched you cry over him for an entire summer.”
It had been the longest summer of my life, and she’d never left my side. She had even convinced her parents to let her stay with me while they went to India for their yearly visit. She gave up time with her Dida and Dadu for me.
Her head started to do that bobble thing it did. “You can’t mess with my best friend and expect me to let it go.”
“Please, Sadie? I’m over it. I’m with Joe now. Zach means nothing to me.”
Sadie’s eyes settled on mine. “Are you sure? You can finally get the closure you always wanted.”
She was right. I had never gotten closure. Zach and I never officially broke up. I hated life. I was so mad about everything. His dad’s job for taking him away back when we didn’t have a say in where we lived. Him for not calling. My brother who I found out still emailed him about video games.
A hard lump formed in my throat, but I pushed the words around it. “I don’t need it anymore.”
She gave me the look, the one that said
I don’t believe you, but I’ll pretend until I can corner you at our apartment
. “You good then?”
I nodded. “I’m good.”
At least I thought I was. It had taken a long time to forget about Zach, but the day had eventually come. Now, just as I thought my life was on a one-way track to happiness, a fork formed in the road, and I found myself hiding in the bathroom like a coward.Chapter 2
At some point between hyperventilating and doing my shake-off dance, I got myself together. But I still needed a pep talk with my reflection and Sadie to drag me out of the bathroom.
When I took my seat in class I checked my cell phone.
Joe: Babe where’d you go?
Me: Sorry. Saw Prof Mulligan, had to ask a question. Committee stuff. Thought I said bye.
So I lied. Big deal. It’s not like Joe really needed to know the truth. He was my boyfriend and I wasn’t hiding anything from him. I wouldn’t.
I tucked my phone back into my bag and focused on the words of my latest assignment. I took a deep breath and assured myself everything was going to be okay. So what if Zach wasn’t halfway across the freaking country anymore? But
was Zach back? You know what, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was I was happy and I was with Joe.
Joe made me happy. The way he always held my hand so everyone would know we were together, and how loved and wanted it made me feel. How he knew when I was having a bad day and would find ways to make me laugh. I loved how super excited he got over the simplest things like rolling a strike when we went bowling, or getting to watch his friends’ band play. His excitement was contagious, infecting me and everyone around us. But what I loved most about him,was that he had been there to help pick up the pieces as I clawed my way out of my lowest point.
Zach was my past, and there was no reason to talk to him anyway. I could go on with my life as if he had never come back. Nothing had to change. It was a big campus. And I didn’t live in the dorms.
My plan would have worked. It was a good plan.
Life had a different plan.* * *
As soon as I looked back to Professor Schneider, there was Zach, tight t-shirt and all, standing at the front of the classroom and scanning the room.
Zach talked with the professor for a moment and then pointed to me and the empty seat beside me. He might as well have pointed a gun. My hands clammed up, my heart raced—I was as good as dead.
The way he strutted over annoyed me most. This new confidence made him seem arrogant, as if I’d been waiting for this moment from the minute he left. Yeah right.
Zach slid into the desk and leaned towards me, but unfortunately, I had nowhere to go. I raised my hand to block my view of him and turned my body away. If I turned any more, I would have looked like I was sent to sit in time-out. I felt like a vise was gripping my heart.
“Hey, Lizzie,” he said. Just like that. Like we were old-time buds, and he’d never broken my heart. And he called me Lizzie! No one called me that. He was the only person who ever called me Lizzie and just hearing it again caused the vise to tighten.
“That’s not my name!” I snapped.
Zach shot his hand up in defense. “Whoa. Down, girl.”
Professor Schneider began class, but Zach didn’t move away. His attention stayed focused on me.
He tilted his head, a dark eyebrow arched. “I’m sorry. Liz?”
After all that time I was still a sucker when it came to him. I gave in and turned to see what else he had to say.
“I just . . . I just don’t want things to be weird between us.”
“They aren’t!” I didn’t think I could sound so nasty whispering, but mission accomplished.
The guy in front of us turned, a finger over his lips, and shushed us. Zach raised an apologetic hand and the guy turned back in his chair. You’d think that would be enough to shut Zach up, but it only made him move closer. I hated the fact I liked his cologne. And as much as I didn’t want it to, my body betrayed me, responding to his scent, his closeness, but I’d be damned if I gave in to the desire to be closer to him. I hated him. He hurt me. And even if my hormones were willing to forget, my mind wasn’t.
“Oh, come on. I saw you dive into the bathroom earlier.” His voice softened.
He saw me. Shit!
“No, I didn’t.” I folded my arms, trying not to notice him. It was impossible. I could sense him staring at me, waiting for me to turn so he could tell if I was lying or not.
So many things were different. So much time was between us. I wasn’t the same girl as I was a year ago. I was in college now, living on my own. But my lip still twitched when I lied. I had attempted to control it to no avail. It was as if my mouth tried to stop me from letting the lie out.
If I looked at Zach now, he would make me repeat myself and my lip would betray me. I didn’t want him to know he had any effect on me. I didn’t want him back in my life.
“Fine. I guess I was mistaken,” he said as he moved his desk away.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Zach didn’t talk to me for the rest of the class. Which I was fine with, though, I still felt as if he was looking at me, and it made me uncomfortable. Of course he came back into my life the day my outfit sucked and I just threw my hair into a messy ponytail. Damn Sadie for making me go to that frat party last night. Though the blond highlights I’d recently gotten made it look a little more stylish.