“You already said that.”

“Exactly, that’s a big enough one that it counts for two! So what happened?”

I sighed and flopped onto my bed. “It was just weird. It’s like we had nothing to talk about. Which was crazy because we talked the entire time we were together on Wednesday and Thursday. And he didn’t even let me see a menu; he ordered for me. Like I was a three-year-old or something.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, yeah. Oh! And when we were on our way back he just started acting like the night had been completely normal and not awkward in any way. Then when we got back, he pushed me up against the door and started kissing my neck. I kind of asked him to stop and he got weird. Like creepy, scary weird . . . and then he just up and left. I don’t know, the whole night was just a bust.”

Candice didn’t say anything; she just sat there staring at me.


“Are you insane? You told him to stop kissing you?!”

Really? That was all she got from what I told her? “Yeah, we had a bad date; why would I want him to kiss me? Maybe if it had gone something like the first two nights I wouldn’t have—”

“No, no. Rachel. Oh my God. We need to fix this. I can’t believe you still managed to mess up the date after everything I went over with you yesterday!”

“Wow.” I shook my head and let my arms give out so I face-planted into my pillow again. I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even know what to say anymore.


After running to a café to grab a quick breakfast, we made our way back to hopefully study for finals, which were next week. But from the way Candice had tried to lecture me on all I probably had done wrong on the date during breakfast, I doubted much studying would take place if it involved her.

Not even two minutes after getting back into our room, there was a knock on the door. And surprise freaking surprise. Blake West. With four red roses.

“You do realize it’s not even nine on a Saturday,” I said. And yes, I laid the California-bitch tone on thick.

Blake didn’t miss a beat, and his smirk didn’t falter. “Morning, Rach. Can I take you out to breakfast?”

“Oh, we just ate!” Darn. I didn’t even try to sound disappointed.

Candice gave me a look that I pretended not to notice.

“Well, that’s okay.” His smile was full of easy confidence. “How about we go grab some coffee instead?”

“I actually need to start studying for my finals.”

“All the more reason for coffee now; it’ll keep you awake.”

Dear Lord, what is it with him and Candice? Do they not get hints? Must come from her mom’s side of the family. “Sure, why don’t we all go? Candice, you want to get coffee?”

“Nah, I’m good. I just texted Eric to come over in a few to help me, um, study.”

Traitor. I glanced back at a victorious-looking Blake. “Could you give me a couple minutes?”

“See you down there.” He handed me the four roses, winked, and walked down the hall.

“Eric today, huh? I’m sure you two will get tons of studying done. Maybe I should stay and help you; you can’t afford to fail this thing.

“You better go!” She looked me over and raised an annoyed eyebrow. “Please tell me you’re going to change.”

I looked down at my yoga pants and off-the-shoulder Iron Maiden concert shirt. “Ha! No, definitely not. It’s early in the morning, and we’re just getting coffee. Which means I get to stay skanked up.”

“You do not stay skanked up when you’re trying to get the man of your dreams to fall in love with you! You stay skanked up if no one is going to see you! You know this, Rachel.”

Love? God, this whole dating-her-cousin thing was making her more dramatic than usual. I threw my long, dark hair up into a cute messy bun, grabbed my purse, and sighed heavily. “See you later.”

Blake didn’t say a word to me as I slid into the passenger seat of his car, and he continued to stay silent as we drove to one of the Starbucks near campus. The only acknowledgment he made of my presence was to put his hand high up on my thigh again and hold tight. Too tight. And not much changed once we were finally in the shop. Conversation didn’t happen, his hand was back on my thigh, and we had four different stare-downs.

I only won one of those.

At least he let me order my own coffee. That was honestly the only good part of this morning.

I was barely able to hold in my sigh of relief when my phone chimed.

“Who is that?” Blake’s eyebrows were pulled down, and he seemed more than a little annoyed.

Only checking the text preview on the lock screen, I shrugged. “Oh, it’s just a friend, he wants to get a study group together tonight.” I started to put my phone back in my purse when his hand shot out and grabbed on to my arm, effectively keeping it suspended above my purse.

“Well, it’s rude to keep him waiting. Aren’t you going to answer him?” He looked like he was struggling to keep himself in check.

I tried to pull my arm back and he finally released it. Sheesh, what was his problem? It was just a text. “Sure, I guess.”

“Just let him know you can’t go.”

“Excuse me?”

He leaned forward and his eyes narrowed. “I’d prefer that you study with Candice.”

Now I was getting mad. He didn’t own me, he definitely wasn’t my boyfriend, and this was Aaron. The same gay guy that Blake didn’t like “looking at me.” “And since when do you get to decide who I hang out with? Look, maybe I’ve been giving you the wrong impression over the last few days, but we aren’t together. You have no say in what I do.”

Like a switch had been flipped, his face went back to its usual smooth, sexy expression. “You’re right. Actually I think it’s a good idea for you to study with some other people besides Candice; I’m sure you wouldn’t get anywhere with her.”

Wait. What? The sudden change in his mood made me almost feel dizzy. It was like I had my own personal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sitting next to me.

When I could finally get my mouth to stop opening and shutting like a fish, I shook my head and exhaled roughly. “Speaking of, I really need to get back to campus.” I stood to leave without giving him the chance to say no.

Without another word, Blake followed me out to the car. We didn’t say anything on the drive back but he put his hand on my thigh again. Was I imagining how tight he was holding it? When we arrived at the dorm, he parked in one of the spaces rather than letting me out in front. I grabbed the handle to open the door and he pushed down on my thigh, gripping it tighter. I turned to look at him and was surprised to see he still looked light and easygoing.

“I’ll get the door for you. Wait here for just a second.”

Crap, I hope he isn’t going to walk me to my room. I bet Candice still has Eric in there with the door locked. As soon as he released me, my thigh throbbed from the relief of the pressure he’d put on it and I almost wished I was wearing shorts so I could look at the damage I was making myself believe he’d done. The passenger door opened and I stepped out without looking up at him. We walked without saying anything and I made sure to put some distance between us. I was relieved when he began to slow down as we reached the main entrance of the dorm.

“Well, thanks for the coff—”

He caught me around the waist, pushed me up against the wall, and kissed me roughly, interrupting my good-bye. Before I had time to realize what was happening and push him away, his body left mine and he started backing up toward his car.

“I’ll see you later.” He winked, then turned away from me.

I have no idea what my face looked like; I couldn’t even pin down an emotion. I was disgusted, annoyed, confused, and pissed. It took a second before I was able to compose myself. I shook out my arms and walked up to my room.

I didn’t know if I was ready to tell Candice about this, or if I even wanted to. Knowing her, she’d somehow turn it around so that I had done something wrong or I didn’t know how to kiss. Needless to say, I was dreading facing her. Luck was on my side. Eric must still have been in there, because the door was locked, and on the mini whiteboard attached to our wall in Candice’s writing were the words “DON’T come in.” I texted Candice, asking her to put my laptop and books outside while I went to the bathroom so I wouldn’t be subjected to a flushed and rumpled Candice and Eric. After I picked those up, I went back to the common room and pulled out my phone to finally text Aaron back.

Sounds good. What time and where?


7p @ Starbucks

Great. Like I wanted to go there again. I sighed, cracked open a book, and tried not to think about Blake.

WITH THE STUDYING I’d done before the group and the five hours with them, I felt fully prepared for this final and was glad it was on Monday. Once that was out of the way, I only had two days left of easy finals and this year would be over.

I was still wired from all the espresso I’d sucked down in the last few hours, and since it was a twenty-four-hour Starbucks, I decided to stay in the café and write in my journal. After my parents’ accident, Candice’s parents tried everything to get me to talk. I think they were afraid I would never come out of my depression. Her brother, Eli, had been the only one who had known how to handle me—so to speak. He’d been home from college for the summer when the accident happened, and unlike his first few years away, he came back every weekend to see me once school started up again. He would hold me while I stared off into space and never spoke a word. Eli’s form of healing was my favorite, since it was silent, but we all knew he couldn’t be there for me forever. One night when I got home from school there was a journal on my bed with a note from Candice’s dad, George. He suggested using the journal to write to my parents like they were still here. At first it freaked me out, but I told him I would try, and I’m glad I did. Even I could see the difference in myself. I wrote to them every day, even if it was just a few lines. But I viewed it as a way of continuing our family time. Every night after dinner while I was growing up, we’d pile on the couches, turn on the TV, and talk about our day while watching whatever shows were on that night. So that’s what I did. I just told them what was going on in my life like I would have if they were still there.

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