Authors: Cheyanne Young
Copyright © 2016 Cheyanne Young.
All rights reserved.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Cheyanne Young.
Cover image from bigstockphoto.com.
Cover font from fontsquirrel.com
First edition April 26, 2016
Table of Contents
Ten Months Ago – August 2nd
Ash hovered over my shoulder with something like disappointment flowing off him. I let go of the computer mouse and craned my neck backwards, giving him a look. “Why are you glaring?”
“I’m not glaring,” he said, faking this innocent look like everything was fine.
“It sure as hell feels like you’re glaring . . .” I mumbled under my breath, turning back to the LSU student portal webpage.
“It’s just—do you really want to sign up for classes online?” Ash scowls at the screen, ever the guy to hate technology.
“The only other option is to sign up in person and that would mean standing in some long line forever.”
“But then you could visit the campus,” he said, lifting a finger like he’d just made some excellent point. “You really need to do that, you know.”
I lifted my shoulders and rolled my neck. I was tired of having this talk. With Ash, with Mom, with Dad. Even Molly had mentioned it in her oh-so-nice-way, her brown eyes watching me with this hopefulness that maybe she’d be able to get through to me. Everyone wanted me to tour the stupid college. But honestly, I didn’t care about the campus.
I wanted to be here, with Ash. On the track with my friends. I wasn’t ready to pack up and move into a dorm, even though the scholarship I received meant living in a dorm for the first year of college. All those years of homeschooling myself with slow internet and used school books was supposed to be my big start in life. Graduating early so I’d be able to go to college, get a job and have an awesome life free from debt and dead end jobs. Mom had wanted it for me and I had wanted it as well. But now, I suddenly felt entirely too young for college.
“I could just wait a year,” I said, my hand moving the mouse around in circles on the mousepad. “Travel the country with you and then go to college next year.”
“But then you’d be a year behind,” Ash said. He turned around, leaning against the computer desk and watching me with those piercing eyes. “The sooner you’re out of college, the sooner you can travel the country with me.”
“Or I could just not go to college,” I said with a goofy expression. Those words were blasphemy around here and I knew it.
“I’m not letting you screw up your future because you want to spend more time with me,” Ash said, shaking his head. “Let’s pick your classes and then tomorrow if I have to shove you in my truck while you’re sleeping just to make you take a tour of campus, I will.”
I gave him a coy grin. “I love how you’ll resort to violence for me.”
“It wouldn’t be violent,” he said, looking up as if it were a real possibility that he was thinking it through detail by detail. “I’d wrap you up in your comforter so your head wouldn’t hit anything on the way down the stairs. Plus, the burrito effect would be great for keeping your arms tucked in and out of range to strangle me. Then I’d just toss you in the bed of my truck and drive really fast until we get there so you couldn’t jump out.”
“Oh right,” I said, laughing. I punched him in the stomach. “Not violent at all.”
“You’re one to talk,” he said, rubbing his abs.
When I’d finished signing up for the first official semester of my college life, I printed out the schedule and held it up like it was some symbolic tome.
Ash and I celebrated with a kiss and then plopped onto my bed, turning on the television. Ash took all the pillows that had been neatly arranged on my bed and shoved them behind his head, making the ultimate pillow recliner against my headboard. I snuggled up beside him and used his chest as my own personal pillow. It was harder than a real pillow, but I liked it that way. Ash leaned back and I tucked into him, inhaling his scent.
He wrapped his arm around me and I played with his fingers, lacing them between mine. “If I make it through these four years of torture, I hope you’ll still be here waiting on me.”
“Where would I go?” Ash said, kissing my forehead.
I listed off the places on my fingers. “Anaheim, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Paris . . .”
“None of those places mean anything to me.”
“You know what I mean. I’ll be stuck here in Texas and you’ll be visiting all these places, meeting new people and—”
“Hana, stop.” Ash paused the TV and adjusted to where he was looking at me. His brows knit together and he took my chin in his hand. “This relationship will never work out if we don’t have full trust and faith in each other. Believe me when I say I am totally crazy about you.”
My bottom lip quivered as I listened, taking in his words and holding them close to my heart. His lips softened and he kissed me, deepening the kiss until I reached up and grabbed his shoulder. He pulled away and shook his head as if reorienting himself. “Hold on, I’m not done. I am crazy about you, Hana Fisher, and I only want
, Hana Fisher, and it doesn’t matter where I travel or what I do, that’s not going to change.”
“Okay,” I said, breaking eye contact only to let my head rest on his chest again.
He ran a hand through my hair. “You don’t sound very convinced.”
“Babe, I’m sorry,” I said, sitting up and untangling myself from his arms. “I believe that you believe yourself, Ash. I swear I do. But . . . I don’t know, people change. Fame changes people. I’m just scared you’ll go off and leave this stupid town and forget all about me. And it won’t even be your fault, either. That’s the shitty thing. You’re allowed to become someone who wants better than me.”
“Hana, that will never happen,” Ash said. A fire shifted behind his eyes and in those few seconds, I actually almost truly believed him.
“Okay,” I said again, kissing him on the cheek.
“If you don’t believe me now that’s fine.” Ash’s shoulders lifted, his voice turning cocky. “I’ll just have to prove it to you.”
Present Day - May
Dad and Molly’s house—
house, I guess I should say—smells like warm sugar cookies when I walk through the front door. I draw in a deep breath, vowing to find those cookies and eat them all, and glance around the foyer. Everything is flawless and tidy as always. It’s as if I hadn’t been gone for the spring semester of college, like I’d just walked outside for a few minutes and then come back in.
“Hello?” I call out, even though I’m pretty sure no one is home. It’s three in the afternoon on a Friday. Teig’s sixth grade class is getting out right about now, and Molly will be in the car rider line, waiting to pick him up. Dad’s most likely at Mixon Motocross Park, the business he owns. The track is just beyond our own backyard, so I’ll probably go see him once I unpack.
I roll my suitcase and carry my backpack through the living room and toward the stairs, where it quickly becomes knowledge that I’m not about to drag this heavy freaking suitcase up the stairs. I probably shouldn’t have packed it full of books. Tilting it back into standing up position, I shove down the pull handle and leave it where it sits. I just spent my freshman year at college living in a dorm with the worst roommate. I worked my ass off to get straight A’s. When it comes to this stupid suitcase, I’ll worry about it later.
This is summer break, and I’m going to make it count.
I’ll work at the track, I’ll help Molly around the house, I’ll take up a hobby—or ten hobbies. Whatever it takes, I will do it. I will stay busy until it’s time to head back to school in the fall.
I’ll learn to build an entire house from the ground up if that’s what it takes to keep my mind off of it.
The breakup, that is.
The fact that Hana Fisher is as single as the last kid picked for a kickball team.
Warm tears threaten to fill my eyes, so I blink them away, grit my teeth and trudge up the stairs. My bedroom door is closed, but once I open it and see my Paris-themed bedroom looking exactly as I’d left it four and a half months ago, I immediately regret it. Everything in here reminds me of Ash.
There’s a photo of Ash and me on Christmas Eve, dressed in ugly Christmas sweaters and felt reindeer antler headbands. On my vanity mirror, I’ve taped four photo strips from the movie theater where Ash and I went on a rare weekend when he was home and I had driven back from school. The last frame in each strip is of us kissing.
He was such a great kisser. And those photos will have to go.
I toss my backpack on the bed and walk over to the window. I throw open the curtains and stare out at our vast backyard, hoping the sunlight will do something mystical to all of this angsty heartache floating around in my room. There’s a little drainage ditch that separates our yard from the motocross track, and my eyes immediately fall to the wooden bridge that crosses it. I think of the times I’ve walked that bridge hand-in-hand with Ash, and my stomach tightens into a knot.
I’d like to fall onto my bed and sleep the pain away, but I know the moment my head hits the pillow, I’ll be transported back to all the times Ash and I cuddled together on that very same pillow and watched TV. Maybe I should burn the pillow. And the sheets. And the TV. And the whole room.
Then I could get to work on that whole building-a-house-from-scratch idea.
I can’t help but chuckle to myself as I venture into my bathroom, shaking my head at this new level of pathetic. I am eighteen years old now, and I have been since December. My mirrored reflection looks back at me as I hold myself up by leaning on my palms on the bathroom countertop.
You’re legally an adult, Hana. So start acting like one.
My breakup wasn’t exactly some dramatic, drawn-out, heart-wrenching nightmare. It was mutual. And up until now, my heartache had pretty much dulled to a low roar that I was getting good at ignoring over the last couple of months. Something about coming home really ripped this wound wide open, though. And now here I am splashing cold water on my face like some kind of relapsing drug addict. I stare into my eyes in the mirror and say it out loud, “It. Was. Mutual.”
Ash and I just couldn’t make it in a long distance thing. We cared about each other, but none of that matters when one of you is a professional motocross racer who gallivants around the country, attending parties and posing with models for magazine photoshoots every other day. Yep, it was mutual as shit.
I hear the rumble of the garage door opening, so I quickly towel off my face and rush out to see the family.
“Hana!” Teig calls out, running into the kitchen while I’m descending the stairs. “You’re home, right?”
“No, I’m just a ghost,” I say in a spooky voice, wriggling my fingers for the full effect. My eleven-year-old half-brother grins and runs up the stairs to meet me halfway. He throws his arms around me and I hug him back and wave to Molly, my stepmom, over his shoulder.
“Okay how are you this tall?” I ask, stepping down one step to put us on the same level. The exact same level. “You’re just a kid!”
He shrugs in this confident way that seems out of place but still adorable on someone so young. “Bet I could beat you at arm wrestling, too.”
I ruffle his hair just to put him back in his place. “Okay, well I bet I can beat you at driving a car, and passing the SATs.”
“How was the drive, Hana?” Molly waits for us at the bottom of the stairs and I head down and give her a hug. The scent of her coconut shampoo welcomes me home more than my own bedroom does.
“It was fine,” I say. “No murderous road raging lunatics crossed my path.” Lawson State University is only an hour and a half away but my step-mother always acts like it’s a trek across the continent each time I drive there and back.
The lines on the side of her mouth deepen. “Good. I worry about you.”
“She is the biggest worry-wart ever,” Teig teases once he’s a safe distance away from his mom’s slapping radius. “My friends are always surprised that she lets me race a dirt bike with how dangerous it is.”
“Keep talking,” Molly warns, pointing a finger at him teasingly. “I’d take that bike away in a heartbeat but then I’d be stuck with you all day.” She turns to me and her expression warms. “Want to help me start dinner? I’m making your favorite.”
I glance toward the kitchen island where they’ve dropped a bunch of grocery bags. “Lasagna?” My eyes widen. “No way.”
“Yes way,” Molly says. “It was Teig’s idea.”
“With cheesy bread?”
She nods. “Also Teig’s idea.”
“Oh my god, you are the best little brother ever,” I say in a voice that’s practically inaudible over my drooling. “I haven’t had Molly’s lasagna in months.” I rub my stomach. I’ve been living on dollar menu fast food, PB&Js, and Pop Tarts for longer than I care to admit. The best part about coming home is definitely the food.
We get to work unloading the groceries and Molly pops open a bottle of red wine. She makes me a glass without asking if I’d like some, and I wonder if she
. I’ve never been a fan of alcohol thanks to growing up with a mother who treated it like her best friend, but this was my first year of college and yeah, I’d tried it.
I’ve been fairly drunk twice now, both times at a dorm party thrown by the same group of girls. I’m not really a fan. Especially because both occasions started out as a way to escape homework and my roommate and ended with angry phone calls with Ash. But tonight, one glass might calm me enough to take my mind off of that boy, so I take the glass and thank her and try not to drink it all at once.
Molly has me cooking ground beef in a skillet while she minces garlic for the bread. Teig disappears into his room for a while to put his stuff away, and when he walks back into the kitchen, I can tell by the smirky look on his face that he has something to say.
I look over at him and lift an eyebrow. He perches on a barstool on the opposite side of the kitchen island staring at his mom with wide, knowing eyes. “Well?” he says, reaching out and tapping the baking pan in front of her to get her attention. “Mom? Hana is home.”
“Yes, honey?” Molly says without looking up.
His eyes get big. “Hana. Is. Home. Shouldn’t we, you know, tell her what’s been going on around here while she was gone?”
“What’s going on?” I ask, putting a hand on my hip. “Teig looks like he’s about to jump out and scare me or something.”
“Oh, Teig,” Molly says, sounding exhausted. She sets the knife down and stares at her son as if she’s considering something. “I’m not sure this is the time.”
“Oh hell no,” I say, holding up a hand. “You can’t say that and then leave me hanging. What’s going on? Is everything okay?”
“Apparently I’m too young to talk to you about these things so I have to keep my mouth shut,” Teig says. The way he looks at me suddenly makes me feel like the kid in the room. Like he’s the one trying to take care of me instead of the other way around.
She rolls her shoulders and gives Teig a glare before turning to me, donning that motherly expression that’s usually comforting. “There’s a guy,” she says, tilting her head at the last word. “His name is Lincoln and ever since he saw your photos on the track’s Facebook page, he’s been dying to meet you.”
“And he’s a concrete statue of a former president?” I ask, lifting a brow. “What does this have to do with me?”
“Mom, I could tell it way better than you,” Teig says, ripping off a piece of the French bread loaf and shoving it in his mouth. “His last name is Atwell and he works at the track. He’s twenty-one.”
“That’s enough, T,” Molly snaps. She wipes her hands on her apron and puts a hand on my shoulder. But I’m pretty sure I know what’s coming next.
I rub my eyebrow. “You want me to date this guy with a political name?”
“No, no, of course not!” She squeezes my shoulder and then turns back to making the cheesy bread. “Jim hired him a couple of months ago, and he’s a really sharp kid. I just feel that, say if you need more friends this summer, or something, then you might want to . . .”
“Date him?” I say again. The very thought of opening up my heart to another guy so soon after losing my last one sends a wave of nausea through my stomach. But I know Molly comes from a good place with her suggestion. She just wants all of her family members to be happy. “I don’t really think that’s a good idea. I don’t really want to date anyone right now.”
“Because you still love Ash,” Teig says, folding his arms across his chest like he’s some kind of genie with the knowledge of all things Hana.
“Teig, I told you to stay out of this,” Molly says, swatting his hand away when he tries to reach for another piece of bread. “This is an adult situation.”
“Yeah but Lincoln told me that he had a crush on Hana first, so it’s kind of my business, too. He made it my business by going all gaga over her pictures.”
“Who does this guy think he is?” I ask, rolling my eyes in an attempt to hide the pain I feel. “He doesn’t even know me, so he can’t have a crush on me.”
“Exactly,” Molly says, jumping to my defense. “But I think you’d really like him as a friend. You know, on the off chance that you won’t spend that much time at the Carter’s this summer.”
I let out my breath. The longer I have to talk about this potential guy to date, the more the pain in my chest increases. “Sure, I’ll be happy to meet him,” I say.
“Wonderful!” Molly beams. She tosses the minced garlic into her shredded cheese bowl and reaches for a spatula.
“This is just in case Ash and you don’t get back together, which I would
, by the way,” Teig says, pointing a warning finger at me. “You can be Lincoln’s friend, but don’t let him in your pants.”
“Teig!” Molly and I say in unison. She swats at him with a dishtowel. “I don’t ever want to hear those words come out of your mouth ever again. You are way too young.”
Teig groans. “I know what love and sex are, Mom.”
“Do you?” I ask, peering down at him.
His cheeks redden. “I know some of it.”
Molly looks toward the ceiling and shakes her head. “Where did I go wrong?” she mutters under her breath.
Probably from embarrassment, Teig says he’s going to go play video games and then he disappears so quickly I expect a puff of dust to appear where he was sitting. Once he’s upstairs and his bedroom door is closed, Molly looks over at me.
Shit, I’d hoped this conversation was over, but the look in her eyes tells me it’s only just beginning.
“Do you think you and Ash will get back together?”
I lift my shoulders, focusing on the skillet in front of me. “Probably not. I don’t know.”
“Lincoln is a great guy,” she says. “Cute, too. But there’s no pressure obviously. I just wanted you to know you already have an admirer here in Mixon since you were so adamant that you didn’t like anyone at college.”
If I pretend not to hear her, will she go away?
I summon the energy to twist my lips into a smile. “Thanks, Molly. I’m not sure if I want to date right now, but you’ll be the first to know when I do.”
“Ugh, I know this is awkward.” Molly’s eyes bore into the back of my head—I can feel it, but I don’t say anything. “I’m sorry, Hana. I’ll drop it. I don’t want to creep you out with too much step-mother talk.” Her hand touches my back for a second. “I just want you to be happy.”