Authors: Colleen Hoover
I laugh. Chris becomes complimentary when he’s drunk. Sometimes I make fun of him for it, but I secretly love it.
“You’re supposed to say something you love about me now,” he says.
I look up and to the left, like I’m having to think hard. He squeezes my side playfully.
“I love how much fun you are,” I say. “You make me laugh, even when you frustrate me.”
Chris smiles, and a dimple appears in the center of his chin. He has such a great smile. If I am pregnant and we do end up having a child
together, I hope it at least has Chris’s smile. That’s the only positive thing I can think of that could come from this situation.
“What else?” he asks.
I reach my hand up and touch his dimple, fully prepared to tell him I love his smile, but instead, I say, “I think you’ll make a great dad someday.”
I don’t know why I say that. Maybe I’m testing the waters. Seeing what his reaction will be.
He laughs. “Hell yeah, I will. Clara is gonna love me.”
I tilt my head. “Clara?”
“My future daughter. I’ve already named her. Still working on a boy name, though.”
I roll my eyes. “What if your future wife hates that name?”
He slides his hands up my neck and grips my cheeks. “You won’t.” Then he kisses me. And even though his kiss doesn’t fill up my chest like Jonah’s looks sometimes do, I feel a comforting reassurance in this moment. In his words. In his love for me.
Whatever happens when I finally take a pregnancy test tomorrow . . . I’m confident he’ll support me. It’s just who Chris is.
“Guys, we should go,” Jonah says.
Chris and I separate and look up at Jonah. He’s holding Jenny. Her arms are wrapped around his neck, and her face is pressed against his chest. She’s groaning.
“I told her not to get on that table,” Chris mutters, climbing out of the pool. He helps me out, and we squeeze as much water as we can from our clothes before heading to Jonah’s car. Luckily, the seats are leather. I get in the driver’s seat since Chris assumes Jonah has been drinking. Jonah gets in the back seat with Jenny. Chris is flipping through songs on the radio when we pull away from the party.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” has just started playing on one of the stations, so Chris turns it up and starts to sing. A few seconds later, Jonah is singing along.
Surprisingly, I quietly join them. There’s no way any human can hear this song while driving and
sing along. Even if they’re in the midst of a pregnancy scare at the age of seventeen while feeling things for someone in the back seat of a car that they should only be feeling for the person in the front passenger seat.
Seventeen Years Later
I look at my passenger seat and cringe. As usual, there are crumbs of an unknown source caked in the crevices of the leather. I grab my backpack and toss it in the back seat, along with an old fast-food bag and two empty water bottles. I attempt to swipe the crumbs away. I think it might be pieces of banana bread that Lexie was eating last week. Or it could be the crumbs from the bagel she was eating on our way to school this morning.
Several graded papers are crumpled on my floorboard. I reach for them, swerving toward the ditch before righting the wheel and deciding to leave the papers where they are. A presentable car isn’t worth dying for.
When I reach the stop sign, I pause and give this decision the contemplation it deserves. I can keep driving toward my house, where my whole family is preparing for one of our traditional birthday dinners. Or I can do a U-turn and head back toward the top of the hill, where I just passed Miller Adams standing on the side of the road.
He’s avoided me for all of the last year, but I can’t leave someone I even sort of know stranded in this heat no matter how awkward it might be between us. It’s almost one hundred degrees outside. I have the air conditioner on, but beads of sweat are sliding down my back, being soaked up by my bra.
Lexie wears her bra for an entire week before washing it. She says she just douses it in deodorant every morning. To me, wearing a bra twice before washing it is almost as bad as wearing the same pair of underwear two days in a row.
Too bad I don’t apply the same philosophy of cleanliness to my car that I apply to my bras.
I sniff the air, and my car smells of mildew. I debate spraying a bit of the deodorant I keep in my console, but if I decide to turn the car around and offer Miller a ride, my car will smell like freshly sprayed deodorant, and I’m not sure which is worse. A car that effortlessly smells like mildew or a car that purposefully smells like fresh deodorant to cover
the smell of mildew.
Not that I’m trying to impress Miller Adams. It’s hard for me to worry about the opinion of a guy who seems to go out of his way to avoid me.
But I do, for some reason.
I never told Lexie this because it embarrasses me, but at the beginning of this year, Miller and I were assigned lockers next to each other. That lasted all of two hours before Charlie Banks started using Miller’s locker. I asked Charlie if his locker had been reassigned, and he told me Miller offered him twenty bucks to switch lockers.
Maybe it had nothing to do with me, but it felt personal. I’m not sure what I did to make him dislike me, and I try not to care about his feelings behind his avoidance of me. But I don’t like that he doesn’t like me, so I’ll be damned if I pass him up and offer validation to his feelings, because
I’m nice, dammit!
I’m not this terrible person he seems to think I am.
I make the U-turn. I need his impression of me to change, even if it’s merely for selfish reasons.
When I approach the top of the hill, Miller is standing next to a road sign, holding his cell phone. I don’t know where his car is, and he certainly isn’t on this road because he’s out for a casual run. He’s wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a black T-shirt, each a death sentence of their own in this heat, but . . . paired together? Heatstroke is a strange way to want to go out, but to each his own.
He’s watching me as I loop my car around and park behind him. He’s about five feet away from the front of my car, so I can see the smirk on his face when he slides his cell phone into his back pocket and looks up at me.
I don’t know if Miller realizes what his attention (or lack thereof) can do to a person. When he looks at you, he does it in such a way that it makes you feel like the most interesting thing he’s ever seen. He puts his entire body into the look, somehow. He leans forward, his eyebrows draw together in curiosity, he nods his head, he listens, he laughs, he frowns. His expressions while he listens to people are captivating. Sometimes I watch him from afar as he holds conversations with people—secretly envious they’re getting his rapt attention. I’ve always wondered what a full-on conversation would be like with him. Miller and I have never even had a conversation one-on-one, but there have been times I’ve caught him glancing at me in the past, and even a simple one-second graze of his attention can send a shiver through me.
I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t have made the U-turn, but I did and I’m here, so I roll down my window and swallow my nerves. “It’s at least another thirteen days before the next Greyhound. Need a ride?”
Miller stares at me a moment, then looks behind him at the empty roadway, as if he’s waiting for a better option to come along. He wipes sweat from his forehead; then his focus lands on the sign he’s gripping.
The anticipation swirling around in my stomach is a clear signal that I care a lot about the opinion of Miller Adams, as much as I can try and convince myself that I don’t.
I hate that things are weird between us, even though nothing has happened that I’m aware of that would make them weird. But the way he avoids me makes it feel like we’ve had issues in the past, when really, we’ve had no interaction at all. It almost feels similar to breaking up with a guy and then not knowing how to navigate a friendship with him after the breakup.
As much as I wish I didn’t care to know anything about him, it’s hard not to want attention from him because he’s unique. And cute. Especially right now, with his Rangers cap turned backward and wisps of dark hair peeking out from beneath it. He’s long overdue for a haircut. He usually keeps it shorter, but I noticed when we started back to school that it got a lot longer over the summer. I like it like this. I like it short too.
Shit. I’ve been paying attention to his
? I feel I’ve subconsciously betrayed myself.
He’s got a sucker in his mouth, which isn’t unusual. I find his addiction to suckers amusing, but it also gives off a cocky vibe. I don’t feel like insecure guys would walk around eating candy as much as he does, but he always shows up to school eating a sucker and usually has one in his mouth at the end of lunch.
He pulls the sucker out of his mouth and licks his lips, and I feel every bit of the sweaty sixteen-year-old that I am right now.
“Can you come here for a sec?” he asks.
I’m willing to give him a ride, but getting back out in this heat was not part of the plan.
“No. It’s hot.”
He waves me over. “It’ll only take a few minutes. Hurry, before I get caught.”
I really don’t want to get out of my car. I’m regretting turning around, even if I am finally getting the conversation with him I’ve always wanted.
It’s a toss-up, though. Conversation with Miller comes a close second to the cold blast from my car’s air conditioner, so I roll my eyes dramatically before exiting my vehicle. I need him to understand the huge sacrifice I’m making.
The fresh oil from the pavement sticks to the bottom of my flip-flops. This road has been under construction for several months, and I’m pretty sure my shoes are now ruined because of it.
I lift one of my feet and look at the bottom of my tarred shoe, groaning. “I’m sending you a bill for new shoes.”
He looks at my flip-flops questionably. “Those aren’t shoes.”
I glance at the sign he’s hanging on to. It’s the city limit sign, held erect by a makeshift wooden platform. The platform is held down by two huge sandbags. Because of the road construction, none of the signs on this highway are cemented into the ground.
Miller wipes beads of sweat off his forehead and then reaches down and lifts one of the sandbags, holding it out to me. “Carry this and follow me.”
I grunt when he drops the sandbag into my arms. “Follow you where?”
He nudges his head in the direction I came from. “About twenty feet.” He puts his sucker back in his mouth, picks up the other sandbag and tosses it effortlessly over his shoulder, then begins to drag the sign behind him. The wooden platform scratches against the pavement, and tiny pieces of wood splinter off.
“Are you stealing the city limit sign?”
“Nope. Just moving it.”
He continues walking while I stand still, staring at him as he drags the sign. The muscles in his forearms are pulled tight, and it makes me wonder what the rest of his muscles look like under this much strain.
Stop it, Clara!
The sandbag is making my arms sore, and the lust is chipping away at my pride, so I reluctantly begin following him the twenty feet.
“I was only planning on offering you a ride,” I say to the back of his head. “I never intended to be an accomplice in whatever this is.”
Miller props the sign upright, drops his sandbag on the wooden slats, and then takes the other sandbag from my arms. He drops it in place and straightens the sign out so that it’s facing the right way. He pulls the sucker back out of his mouth and smiles. “Perfect. Thank you.” He wipes a hand on his jeans. “Can I catch a ride home? I swear it got ten degrees hotter on my walk here. I should have brought my truck.”
I point up at the sign. “Why did we just move this sign?”
He turns his ball cap around and pulls the bill of it down to block more of the sun. “I live about a mile that way,” he says, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. “My favorite pizza place won’t deliver outside the city limits, so I’ve been moving this sign a little every week. I’m trying to get it to the other side of our driveway before they finish construction and cement it back into the ground.”
“You’re moving the city limit? For pizza?”
Miller begins walking toward my car. “It’s just a mile.”
“Isn’t tampering with roadway signs illegal?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
I start following him. “Why are you moving it a little at a time? Why not just move it to the other side of your driveway right now?”
He opens the passenger door. “If I move it in small increments, it’s more likely to go unnoticed.”
Once we’re inside my car, I remove my tarred flip-flops and turn up the air-conditioning. My papers crumple beneath Miller’s feet as he fastens his seat belt. He bends down and picks up the papers, then proceeds to flip through them and peruse my grades.
“All As,” he says, moving the pile of papers to the back seat. “Does it come natural, or do you study a lot?”
“Wow, you’re nosy. And it’s a little of both.” I start to pull the car onto the road when Miller opens the console and peeks inside. He’s like a curious puppy. “What are you doing?”
He pulls out my can of deodorant. “For emergencies?” He grins and then pops open the lid, sniffing it. “Smells good.” He drops it back into the console, then pulls out a pack of gum and takes a piece, then offers one to me.
He’s offering me a piece of my own gum.
I shake my head, watching as he inspects my car with rude curiosity. He doesn’t eat the gum because he still has a sucker in his mouth, so he slides it into his pocket and then begins to flip through songs on my radio. “Are you always this intrusive?”
“I’m an only child.” He says it like it’s an excuse. “What are you listening to?”
“My playlist is on shuffle, but this particular song is by Greta Van Fleet.”
He turns up the volume just as the song ends, so nothing is playing. “Is she any good?”
“It’s not a
. It’s a rock band.”
The opening guitar riff from the next song blares through the speakers, and a huge smile spreads across his face. “I was expecting something a little more mellow!” he yells.