Author:Emma Chase

Hot, angry tears cover her cheeks and her eyes are puffy with betrayal. “I hate you! You make me sick! I hate you!”


She pulls out of my grasp and runs up the porch, slamming the screen door behind her as she disappears into the house. I’m left standing on the lawn—shredded. Feeling like I’ve been flayed open, my heart not just broken but ripped out. And there’s something else—more than regret—there’s fear. It makes my palms sweat and skin prickle. Fear that I’ve messed up, terror that I just lost the best thing that will ever happen to me.


I push a hand through my hair, trying to keep it together. Then I sit on the porch steps and brace my elbows on my knees. I keep an eye on Presley, on the blanket twenty feet away where she plays with her cousins near the swing set. Her white-blond curls bounce as she giggles, thankfully, completely unaware.


Out of nowhere, Ruby, Jenny’s older sister, appears on the steps next to me. She smooths her denim miniskirt then pushes her wavy red locks off her shoulders.


“You certainly got yourself locked in the shithouse this time, Stanton.”


Normally I wouldn’t go to Ruby for any kind of advice—least of all about relationships. But she’s here.


“I . . . I don’t know what happened.”


Ruby snorts. “You told my sister you fucked another girl, that’s what happened. No woman wants to hear that.”


“Then why did she ask?”


She shakes her head, like the answer is obvious. “’Cause she wanted to hear you say no.”


“We agreed to see other people,” I argue. “We said we’d be honest with each other. Mature.”


“Sayin’ and feelin’ are two different things, lover boy.” She picks at her manicure. “Look, you and Jenny are eighteen, y’all are babies . . . this was bound to happen. Only a matter of when.”


I can barely get the words past my constricted throat. “But . . . I love her.”


“And she loves you. That’s why it hurts so bad.”


There’s no way I’m giving up, no way I’m goin down—not like this. It’s the fear that pushes me to do something, say anything. To hold on like a man clinging to a boulder in a current.


I walk up the oak staircase to the room Jenn shares with our daughter and through the closed door that tells me I’m not welcome.


She’s on the bed, shoulders shaking, crying into her pillow. And the knife sinks deeper in my gut. I sit on the bed and touch her arm. Jenny has the smoothest skin—rose-petal soft. And I refuse for this to be the last time I get to touch her.


“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Don’t cry. Please don’t . . . hate me.”


She sits up and doesn’t bother to wipe the evidence of heartache off her face. “Do you love her?”


“No,” I tell her firmly. “No, it was one night. It didn’t mean anythin’.”


“Was she pretty?”


I answer like the lawyer I’m trying to become. “Not as pretty as you.”


“Dallas Henry asked me to go to the movies with him,” Jenny tells me quietly.


Any remorse I feel goes up in smoke and is replaced with blue flaming anger. Dallas Henry was a receiver on my high school football team—he was always a raging asshole. The kind of guy who made a play for the drunkest girls at the party—the kind who would’ve slipped something into their drinks to get them drunk faster.


“Are you shittin’ me?”


“I told him no.”


The fury cools a notch—but only just barely. My fist is still gonna have a nice long chat with Dallas fucking Henry before I leave.


“Why didn’t you say no, Stanton?” she accuses quietly.


Her question brings the guilt back full force. Defensively, I get to my feet—pacing and tense. “I did say no! Plenty of times. Shit, Jenn . . . I thought . . . it wasn’t cheatin’! You can’t be mad at me for this. For doin’ what you said you wanted. That’s not fair.”


Every muscle in my body strains—waiting for her response. After what feels like forever, she nods. “You’re right.”


Her blue eyes look up at me and the sadness in them cuts me to the bone. “I just . . . I hate picturing what you did with her in my head. I wish I could go back to when . . . when I didn’t know. And I could pretend that it’s only ever been me.” She hiccups. “Is that . . . is that pathetic?”


“No,” I groan. “It’s not.” I drop to my knees in front of her—aware that I’m begging, but not having the will to care. “It has only ever been you—in every way that matters. What happens when we’re apart, only means somethin’ if we let it mean somethin’.”


My hands drift up her thighs, needing to touch her—to wipe this from her mind—wanting so badly for us to be us again.


“I’m home for the summer. Two and half months and all I want to do for every second of that time is love you. Can I, darlin’? Please just let me love you.”


Her lips are warm and puffy from crying. I brush at them gently at first, asking permission. Then firmer, spearing her mouth with my tongue, demanding compliance. It takes a moment, but then she’s kissing me back. Her small hands fist my shirt, gripping tight, pulling me to her.