The Ghost of You and Me First 2 Chapters Preview!

Hey everyone! I’m so excited for my new book to come out tomorrow!! I really think you guys are going to love this one and since I’m literally bouncing around with anticipation in my desk chair right now, I’ve decided to post the beginning of the book for you. Happy reading!

 

Prologue:

Trisha reaches over Chase Lansing and punches my arm because I’m frozen, still as an ice sculpture. It’s my turn. I want to bail. I want to run away screaming like the scared little girl that I am, but I can’t back out. Eighth graders are brutal. If they figure out how afraid I am or that I’ve never been kissed before, they’ll make this moment so much worse than it already is.

Before I reach for the bottle, I try to wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans without anyone noticing, and I glance at all my possibilities. Eight boys sit crisscross applesauce around the tight circle, smirking, winking, or nervously wetting their lips in anticipation. Six of those boys I’d rather die than let kiss me, but the other two…

Spencer Schott and Wes Delaney are my two best friends in the entire world. Spencer’s house and mine are separated only by our backyards and one giant oak tree that turns a brilliant shade of red in the fall and is home to the greatest tree house ever built. Spencer, Wes, and I practically lived in that tree house, until we hit middle school and decided secret hideouts were for kids.

We’re still best friends, though, and both Wes and Spencer dutifully came to this party with me tonight even though they didn’t want to. It’s Trisha Talbot’s fourteenth birthday, and Wes and Spencer think she’s mean. She kind of is, but it’s better to be her friend than her enemy, so when she surprised me with an invitation to her party, I didn’t dare refuse. Now I’m about to give up my first kiss to a game of Spin the Bottle.

I twist the glass container that had only minutes ago been drained of Coke and give it a powerful spin while sending up a prayer to whatever higher power exists that it will stop on Spencer or Wes. I don’t care which one. Truth be told, I have a crush on them both.

Spencer has red hair and hazel eyes framed by nice-looking wire-rimmed glasses. Some kids make fun of his freckles and glasses, but I like them. He isn’t the cutest boy in the world, but he is the nicest and the funniest.

Wes, on the other hand, is hot. He’s taller than most of the other boys and has thick brown hair and eyes so dark they’re almost black. He’s quiet because he doesn’t like big groups, but when it’s just he, Spencer, and I hanging out, he talks like he needs to make up for lost time.

As the bottle twirls around in manic circles on the linoleum of Trish’s kitchen floor, I meet both Wes’s and Spencer’s eyes. Wes is on my right and Spencer is just to the left of being directly in front of me. Neither one of them looks as nervous as I feel.

The bottle starts to slow. As it sweeps past Wes, I know it won’t make it back around to him. Wes knows it, too, and his eyes narrow on all the boys still left in the running. The glare makes me smile. I know he’ll protect me if anyone gets too enthusiastic during the kiss—which is likely to happen if the bottle stops on Jake Wainwright. Jake was bragging about French kissing a ninth grade girl earlier tonight.

Not Jake. Not Jake. Not Jake.

The bottle stops on Penny Martin. Since she’s sitting between Jake and Spencer, she gets to choose which one I have to kiss.

Not Jake. Not Jake. Not Jake. Please, not Jake.

Either Penny picks up on my mental vibes or Spencer pinches her in the side, because the bottle looks like it’s leaning more toward Jake, but she still says, “I pick Spencer.”

For a brief moment I’m overcome with relief, but then I realize I’m about to kiss Spencer!

Spencer worries his bottom lip in his teeth as he rises up onto his knees. Swallowing down a stomach full of butterflies, I meet him in the middle of the circle. Neither of us says anything. Spencer wets his lips, and his eyes fall to my mouth. He’s shaking a little as he leans in.

I stop breathing.

The rule is our lips have to touch for five seconds. All the kids in the circle count it off. I thought having an audience would embarrass me, but when Spencer’s lips touch mine, I forget about everyone and everything around me.

My eyes are pinched shut, and I pucker my lips so tightly they’re hard as rocks, but Spencer’s touch is so light and soft that I relax. A small sigh escapes my mouth, and when my lips part, Spencer captures my top one between his. I instinctively copy his movements, and suddenly we’re kissing. Actually kissing, not just pressing our lips together while our classmates count to five.

Spencer’s hand comes to my cheek, and I lean into him. My whole body relaxes even though my heart is racing wildly in my chest. Kissing Spencer is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, and right in this moment I know that I’ll never want to kiss anyone else ever again.

The count reaches five, forcing Spencer to pull away from me. He does so slowly, as if he doesn’t want to stop any more than I do, but we’ll be teased mercilessly if we keep it up any longer than necessary.

When he pulls away, our eyes meet and my face blossoms into a wide grin. It doesn’t matter if I look like a gigantic dork; I’m happy. I glance at Wes just in time to see him wipe a frown from his face. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it registers that he’s upset, but I can’t quite seem to let it sink in. I’m in too good a mood. That was the best first kiss I could have asked for.

Later, when my mom comes to drive us home from the party, Spencer holds my hand the entire way. When I walk him to the property line between my house and his, I stop us beneath that big oak tree with the tree house we’re too old to play in and wrap my arms around him in a tight hug. “Thank you,” I whisper. “I was so scared that my first kiss was going to be awful, but that was perfect.”

Spencer clears his throat and mumbles, “It was my first kiss, too, and it was more than perfect.”

I pull back from the hug to stare at him with wide eyes. His cheeks and the tips of his ears are bright pink. “I’m glad it was you,” he says.

“I’m glad it was you, too.”

 

Chapter 1

I rest against the trunk of the brilliant red oak tree in my backyard, with nothing but my journal to keep me company. Summer’s almost over. In South Orange, New Jersey, that means it’s humid, but not so hot anymore that the moisture in the air is unbearable. I close my diary and let my eyes flutter shut as I lift my face to the sky. I take in a deep breath, enjoying the light breeze tickling my skin and the loud hum of the cicadas singing their song in the leaves above my head. Blissful peace.

As I shift, I feel the uneven surface of the tree behind me. I run my fingers through the deep grooves cut out of the trunk and smile, remembering when Spencer carved our initials here. We had just started ninth grade, and it was our first anniversary as a couple. We were only fourteen at the time, but we’d already been together for an entire year. Spencer nearly cut his finger off with the dull pocketknife he’d used and had to have stitches. But he finish the carving before telling his parents he’d hurt himself, because he said he had to have proof of our longevity when we were old and gray. He wanted to claim a Guinness World Record for the longest relationship ever.

Laughing at the memory, I jerk with a start when a single white daisy pops in front of my face. “Whatcha doin’, sitting out here all by yourself?” Spencer asks, grinning as he takes a seat next to me.

I smell the flower he’s given me before answering him. “Just remembering all the good times. What are you doing here?”

“I came to check up on my girl, of course.” Spencer gives me another smile that makes my heart melt. After all these years, I’m still not tired of that boyish grin, so full of love for me. “And bringing her one of her favorite flowers on our anniversary. Three years. That’s longer than a lot of marriages last.”

“But not a Guinness record,” I tease.

I examine the flower in my hands. I’ve always loved daisies. They’re such a happy-looking flower, with their crisp, white petals and bright yellow center. Plucking one of the petals free from the stem, I smile and say, “He loves me.”

Spencer grins. This is one of our favorite games.

I pluck another petal. “He loves me not.”

Spencer lets me repeat this process a few times before reaching up to pluck a petal of his own. “He loves you.” Pluck. “He loves you.” Pluck. “He loves you. He loves you. He loves you.” Pluck. Pluck. Pluck.

Though only half of the petals are gone, he steals the flower from my fingers and tosses it aside. “I love you,” he says, leaning over to kiss me.

I wrap my arms around his neck and lose myself in his love. He lays me back on the grass and kisses me until I’m breathless and my head is swimming. Satisfied for now, he rolls onto his back and shuts his eyes, enjoying this perfect moment as much as I am. Our hands find each other, and our fingers tangle together.

“I miss you,” I whisper.

He turns his head to the side and smiles at me. “I’m right here.”

His answer makes me smile, too. “Yes, you are.”

We enjoy the peace and quiet for a moment before Spencer speaks. “You know…” I look at him, and though his face is serious, his eyes are filled with mischief. “They say kissing a ginger is good luck.”

I burst out laughing and shake my head. My long blonde hair gets caught in the grass. I can feel leaves in it, but I don’t care. “You’re not really a ginger. Your hair has faded so much it’s a light red-brown.”

“It’s red,” he insists. “And you can’t deny the power of the freckles. I’m a ginger.”

Okay, fine, he’s a ginger. But I’ll never admit it out loud to him, because he hates his red hair. “You’re not.”

He rolls his eyes. “I’m still lucky.”

“How do you figure?”

His smile widens and he leans up onto his side, propping himself up with his elbow. “Because even though I’m a freckled redhead, I still managed to snag the hottest girl in school. I just had to snag her before she was hot.” He winks and says, “Back when she was all awkward and gangly. When her arms and legs were too long for her body, and she had a mouthful of braces…and before she got her boobs.”

When I gasp, he laughs and leans down to kiss me again, trying to cop a feel of said boobs. I smack his hand away but let him kiss me. “That wasn’t luck,” I tell him between kisses. “That was smart. You were thinking ahead.”

He considers arguing the point but gives in. “Fine.” His lips move from my mouth to my neck, making me shiver. “If I’m not really lucky, can I at least get lucky?”

He pulls back to waggle his eyebrows at me, and I laugh again. No one has ever made me laugh more than Spencer. Grinning wickedly, he lifts his gaze to the old tree house perched in the branches above our head. “We may be too old to play Indiana Jones with Wes up there, but there are certainly other movies I wouldn’t mind role playing with you.”

“Like?”

Spencer pushes himself up on to his knees and beats his chest with his fists. “Me Tarzan. You Jane,” he grunts.

I lose myself in a fit of giggles and gasp out, “You are way too skinny to be Tarzan.”

“Skinny!” He pretends to be insulted and attacks me, tickling my sides until I can’t breathe.

“Okay, okay, I give!” I squeal. “You’re a big, strong, sexy, wild gorilla man, and I’d pay good money to see you in a loincloth.”

“That could be arranged.” His laughter is replaced with a hungry stare that warms my entire body. “I love you, Bay.”

I know he does. And I feel the same about him. More than anything. “I love you, too, Spencer.”

The alarm goes off, and I’m pulled back to reality before Tarzan-Spencer can drag me up to his tree house. My chest tightens and my eyes glisten, but I don’t shed tears. As much as the dreams haunt me, I would die if they ever stopped. They’re all I have left of him.

Hands shaking, I pull myself out of bed and prepare to survive another pointless day. After a nice hot shower to loosen my tight muscles, I get dressed and blow my hair dry. It takes forever since my hair is thick and reaches nearly to my waist. I go for the curling iron next and then apply my makeup, taking extra care to cover up the dark circles under my eyes. I’m not concerned about impressing anyone, but the monotonous routine is something I need. I survive on repetition now.

My dream about Spencer still fresh in my mind, I take a moment to look myself over, thinking about what he’d said. I really was an awkward-looking preteen. I suppose I had the honey-blonde hair and bright blue eyes going for me then, but Spencer had no way of knowing I’d grow into the tall beauty I’d turned out to be.

I’d been lucky, too, though. I figured Spencer would always be an awkward, tall, gangly ginger—and yes, he had enough freckles to map the stars on his body—but he’d grown into himself well enough. It wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t, but he did get a little cuter and less awkward each year we were together.

Coating my lips with my favorite lip gloss, I take a deep breath and prepare for this rotten day. Dream Spencer had it right. If he were still alive, today would have been our third anniversary. I don’t think anyone will remember that except for me, but it’s going to haunt me, whether people bring it up or not.

I make my way from my third-floor bedroom down to the kitchen, where my younger sister Julia is eating a bowl of brightly-colored breakfast cereal. Instead of claiming the rest of the Froot Loops, I opt for a bowl of Cheerios—the plain kind, not the honey nut. I’ve never been able to tolerate sweet stuff in the morning.

Julia doesn’t say anything to me as I sit down. She’s busy finishing the homework she “forgot” she had yesterday. She receives a text message on her phone and then scribbles down another answer. I wonder which of her freshman boys is doing her homework for her this time.

She slips her phone in her pocket when Mom breezes into the kitchen, clasping a set of pearl earrings in place. Mom’s heels clack against the tile floor as she crosses the room to the fridge and snags a V8 fruit blend. “Bailey, honey, can you pick up your sister after cheer practice this afternoon? I’m going to be busy setting up for the fundraiser this weekend.”

My mom is technically a stay-at-home mom, but she’s almost never home. She’s on the board of directors for the South Orange Historical Society and is the president of the women’s auxiliary for our church. She’s always got something or other going on, but I don’t mind so much. She’s always there when we need her, and when she is home a lot, she tends to hover too much.

“That’s fine. I’m not doing anything later.”

Julia scoffs. “She’s never doing anything anymore.”

I ignore the dig and finish off the last of my breakfast. I feel Mom watching me, but I don’t look up. She’s worried about me. I know it, and she knows I know it. But there’s no point in having another tired conversation that will only upset her and in no way help me. After a moment, she sighs and says, “You girls better hurry, or you’ll be late for school.”

Julia shoves her homework into her book bag, and I put my bowl in the sink. Mom wraps her arms around me from behind and kisses my head. “Have a good day today, sweetheart.” It’s the best she can do. The sadness in her voice tells me she knows exactly what day today is. I’m grateful she doesn’t say it, though.

There’s no way I’ll have a good day today, but I force a smile on my face for her sake. “I will.” She knows I’m lying, but she appreciates the gesture, and I’m grateful that she cares, even if I don’t say so.

It’s the second week of September, but we’re having a bit of an Indian summer this year, so I put the top down on my VW bug convertible for the drive to school. I’m a junior this year, which means I’m one of the privileged upperclassman who were issued parking permits for the school’s student lot. I am so glad I don’t have to take the bus anymore.

“I love this beautiful machine,” Julia says wistfully, gliding her hand over the front dash. “I wonder what kind of car Mom and Dad will get me when I turn sixteen.”

Not one like this, I want to say but don’t, because I know it will hurt her feelings.

The car was a bribe. I was still fifteen when Spencer died. After the accident, I refused to take my driver’s test and get my license. I had every intention of never getting behind the wheel of a car in my life, but then Dad plunked this beauty in the driveway and set the keys on my nightstand. I held out for months, but with summer break coming to an end and the threat of the bus looming over me, well, I gave in. I’m not sorry. It was stupid to think I could get away with never learning how to drive anyway.

“Are you going to Jake Wainwright’s party this weekend?” Julia asks, pulling me from my thoughts.

I shrug. “I wouldn’t if I had a choice, but I’m sure Trisha and Liz will make me go.”

“You have to go.” When I cast my sister a glance, she raises her eyebrows and cocks her head to the side, as if daring me to say no. “You know Mom and Dad would never let me go without you, and I already told all my friends I was going. I’m the only freshman who got an invite.”

The Atkinson sisters are somewhat legend at our high school. Julia, though only fourteen and a freshman, is just as pretty as I am—good genes, I guess. The difference between us is that Julia uses her looks to her advantage, whereas I never have. I’m glad I’m not ugly, but looks simply don’t matter all that much to me. I was happy just to have Spencer, and now that I don’t, well, truthfully, nothing matters much to me anymore.

When I say nothing, Julia crosses her arms over her chest. “Come on, Bailey. At least one of us should be taking advantage of your popularity.” I give her another look, but she ignores it. “Jake’s brother is single now. If I’m the only freshman there and I’m hanging with you and Trisha, Colin will notice me for sure.”

“Fine. Whatever.” I don’t really care either way. “But if you have one drop of alcohol, I will tell Mom and Dad and get you grounded until you graduate. And I’ll never bring you to another party ever again.”

Julia is quiet for a minute and then softly says, “I won’t drink, Bailey. I promise.”

My response is just as quiet. “Thanks.”

We don’t say another word until we pull into the parking lot. As I raise the top on my car, Julia looks back at me with a sad smile before heading into the building. “Good luck today. Try not to be too sad.” I guess she knows what today is, too.

My little sister can be the biggest pest, but she’s still pretty amazing sometimes. I manage a small, grateful smile that’s somewhat genuine, and she disappears into the crowd of students filing through the front doors. I stay in my seat until the warning bell rings before slowly making my way inside.

 

Chapter 2

Columbia High School is a public school, though it looks like some kind of nineteenth century European boarding school. It’s a beautiful gray stone building with several turrets, chimneys, and a large clock tower over the front entrance. It’s amazing how even a building that looks like a castle from a fairy tale loses its magic when you have to sit through precalculus at eight in the morning. School, even in a beautiful building, is still school.

First period is uneventful, but when I slip into my seat in second hour, Trisha and Liz are already there, ready to give me the latest in school gossip. “Did you hear?” Liz doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Xavier Mitchell’s daughter just transferred to Columbia.”

“Who?”

Liz’s shoulders slump at my underwhelming reaction. “Xavier Mitchell? The quarterback for the New York Jets? Come on, Bailey; even I know that, and I think football is barbaric.”

“You don’t think those tight little pants the players wear are barbaric,” Trisha quips as she works her fingernails with an emery board.

“Very true,” Liz agrees. “And Xavier Mitchell looks mighty fine when he wears his.”

Trisha scoffs. “Gross. He’s old enough to be your dad.”

Liz brushes off Trisha’s snark and gives me a wicked grin. “Whatever. The man is hot, and his daughter, Charlotte, is an apple off the old tree. Have you seen her yet?”

“She’s pretty?” I ask. It would be nice to have someone new for the boys in our school to drool over. No one has dared ask me out since Spencer’s death, but they’ve started to hover. It’s only a matter of time before they decide my period of mourning is over, but I already know that whenever that day comes, I won’t be ready for it.

“She’s gorgeous,” Liz replies. “Her dad’s black and her mom’s white, and she’s, like, the best combination of both races. I would kill for her complexion. Or her figure!”

“She sounds totally stuck up,” Trisha mutters.

“Yeah, well, you would be the expert in all things snobby,” Liz tells her. Trisha and I both smirk at that. Liz shakes her head. “She’s actually super nice. I sat next to her last period and invited her to eat lunch with us today. That should be interesting to watch. Jake, Chase, and Colin were all making complete tools out of themselves, fawning over her like a pack of pathetic losers. Chase actually asked if he could carry her books for her. He was, like—”

I stop listening. When Liz gets going with the gossip, listening and responding aren’t required. I don’t pull out of my daydreaming again until the bell rings and Mrs. Carlson asks me to see her before I leave. I take my time gathering my things. I know what she’s going to say to me, and I’m not looking forward to the conversation.

She’s waiting with my first test when I reach her desk. There’s a bright red C- circled at the top. It’s a better grade than I expected, but I don’t think admitting that will help my cause. She hands me the graded test, with her brows pulled low over her eyes. “Bailey, this is not the start to the year I was hoping for from you. I know you can do better.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Carlson. I’ll be ready for the next one.” My promise is empty, and we both know it.

Mrs. Carlson tries again. “I hoped you’d come back to the cheer squad this year.”

Mrs. Carlson is the head cheer coach for the Columbia High Cougars. I was on the JV squad freshman and sophomore year, but I quit after the accident. I couldn’t cheer for the team when Spencer was no longer on it.

I give her my number-one response to most questions these days—a shrug.

The sympathetic smile falls from Mrs. Carlson’s face. She rubs at her eyes and draws in a long breath. “Bailey… Are you okay?”

I never know how to answer that question, so I say nothing.

“I’m very worried about you. Have you considered talking to someone—a therapist, or maybe a grief counselor?”

“I used to see someone. I take medication—antidepressants. I guess they work. They dull the pain, anyway. The numbness helps.”

Mrs. Carlson’s eyes get shiny. “That’s no way to live life.”

I shrug again. “It’s a way to survive it.” I want out of this conversation, so I glance at the clock. “May I go now, please? I don’t want to be late for my next class.”

Mrs. Carlson swallows, nodding as if she’s unable to find her voice. I feel guilty for upsetting her, so I promise to study harder for my next test as I leave.

I manage to escape any more drama until nearly the end of lunch. Liz is right about the new girl. Charlotte is both very nice and very gorgeous. She captures the attention of everyone at our lunch table the second she shows up. Though she has no idea, I’m grateful to her for hogging the spotlight. She’s just the distraction I need today.

“Bailey!” A French fry smacks me in the face, and I look up to see everyone waiting for me to answer a question. I think the homecoming dance is the topic of conversation, but I’m not sure.

“What?”

Several of my friends snicker, and Trisha groans. “I don’t know why I even bother.”

Liz shoves her and rolls her eyes. “Do you want to go to New York for dinner before the homecoming dance? I say it would be fun for us all to take the train into the city wearing our formals.”

“And I say the train is dirty, and I’m not going to get on it wearing a two hundred and fifty dollar dress,” Trisha argues.

I shake my head. “I’m not going to homecoming this year.”

A hush falls over the table as if I’ve just confessed to murder in the first degree. Trisha leans forward, narrowing her eyes at me. “Nobody’s asked you?” She glares at all the guys sitting with us as if they’ve somehow failed her on a personal level, then flashes me her classic fake smile. “It’s okay. You can still come with us stag. We’ll all make our dates dance with you.”

Male heads all around the table bob enthusiastically, confirming her promise.

“No.” Liz reaches across the table and places her hand on top of mine. “Nobody goes stag to the dance. We’ll find you a date.”

“I’ll go stag with you,” the new girl, Charlotte, offers, with a smile that shows off a mouthful of perfectly straight, blindingly white teeth. She turns to the entire group and adds, “In fact, maybe we should all go stag together. Think of how much fun that would be. If none of us have dates, we’ll all get to dance with everybody.”

All the guys’ eyes double in size at the prospect of getting to dance with both Charlotte and me. Their gazes all bounce back and forth between the two of us, and heads begin to nod. When Jake Wainwright says, “Cool, I’m down,” Trisha whips her head in his direction. “Uh. No. You are not down. You already asked me to be your date. You can’t bail on me.”

“But, babe, if everybody’s going stag, then what does it matter? It’s not like I’m ditching you.”

Trisha’s face turns bright red, and the group takes a collective breath, waiting to see if she’ll explode. That’s been known to happen every now and then, and it’s never pretty.

Trisha doesn’t blow up, but she’s very close. Her voice tightens as she barks out two words that end the conversation, rejecting the option for everyone. “Not. Happening.”

Charlotte glances around the group, recognizing the metaphorical gavel drop for what it is and lifts a shoulder at me. “Whatever. I’ll still go stag with you.”

Trisha sends invisible lasers across the table at Charlotte with her eyes. “Suit yourself. Only losers go stag to homecoming.”

Charlotte doesn’t seem bothered by the insult, and I ignore the fact that Trisha just suggested I was a loser. She’s always been callous. I’ve learned to not take it personally.

The conversation goes back to the original topic of dinner plans, and I tune out again until Charlotte says, “Who is that? If he’s single, I might change my mind about going stag to the dance.”

I don’t look up until everyone around me gasps. Following their gazes, I turn toward the lunch line. The apple I’m holding drops from my hand. A gasp escapes my mouth that is three times louder than everyone else’s had been, and it’s exaggerated because they’ve all gone silent, anticipating my reaction. My heart stops beating and falls into my stomach, making it roll with a powerful wave of nausea.

“What is he doing here?” Liz whispers from somewhere behind me. The sound is distant, barely registering in my mind.

“What do you mean? Who is he?” Charlotte asks again.

Wes Delaney is here. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s been almost a year. He dropped out of school a couple of weeks after Spencer’s accident and disappeared from Columbia High’s social radar. My heart pounds at the sight of him.

Wes pays the lunch lady for his food, and when he turns around, his eyes immediately land on me as if he already knew which direction to look. My mouth goes dry when our eyes meet. I didn’t know how much I’ve missed him until this exact moment. My entire body yearns to reconnect with him. And yet…I have no business feeling that way. I squash those feelings and let my old friend, guilt, swamp me. Guilt is all I deserve where Wes is concerned. Still, I can’t look away from him.

He seems different—older and hardened. His head is shaved nearly bald. Only a dark layer of fuzz remains that is no longer than the five o’clock shadow ghosting his face. It’s a surprisingly good look for him. While Spencer eventually outgrew his awkward tween stage (mostly), Wes never experienced one. He was always hot. Now, he’s just plain sexy.

With his hair so short, his dark eyes and long lashes stand out more than normal. And he’s so built that even from my seat across the cafeteria I can tell his body is rock hard beneath his tight plain white T-shirt and low-hung jeans. He looks tough. Jaded.

“What’s he doing here, Bailey?”

I ignore Trisha’s question. I couldn’t speak right now, even if I knew the answer—which I most definitely do not. I can’t breathe. Can’t think. I’m locked in his stare, and I can’t decipher the look on his face.

Where has he been for the last year? What is he doing here now? What is he thinking? Why can’t he take his eyes off me? Is he going to tell everyone what really happened that night?

Feeling sick, I jump up from my seat and run from the cafeteria as if my life depends on it. Right now, it feels like it does.

When I was put on medication after Spencer’s death, numbness replaced the devastating pain and heartache I suffered. I haven’t felt anything for months. But as I burst into the first-floor girls’ bathroom, it feels as if all the emotions I should have been experiencing all this time hit me at once. It’s crippling.

I look in the mirror, hoping for a clue as to what I’m feeling right now. I only see panic. I’m going to lose it. Leaning back against one of the cold tile walls, I slide to the ground. My knees come up to my chest, and I bury my face in them, wrapping my arms tightly around my legs while I force air in and out of my lungs.

“Breathe,” I whisper to myself. “Breathe, Bailey. It’s okay.”

Miraculously, the pep talk helps. I regain my composure without bursting into tears and give myself a couple minutes to make sure I’m all right before heading out of the bathroom. He’d better be gone. I’m prepared to face the questions and gossip of my classmates, but I don’t think I can face him.

I open the door and slam into a solid chest. Strong hands grip my arms to steady me, and they don’t let go. I know the hands are Wes’s without having to look. “Are you okay?” he asks.

At first, I’m comforted by his presence. His smell is familiar, and the heat of his tall, lean body feels like it could thaw my frozen heart. For a split second, I melt against him. His arms come around me as if holding me is as natural to him as breathing. For a second, everything is right in my pathetic world. For a second, I’m alive again.

“Bailey, what’s wrong?” His usually smooth, deep voice is gruff.

My head jerks up at the sound of my name, and reality catches up with me. I scramble out of his embrace, attempting to swallow back my panic. He’s watching me, waiting for an answer. I haven’t spoken to him since the funeral, and I’m not sure I can do it now. It takes me a minute to find my voice, and when I do, I blurt out, “What are you doing here?”

He sucks in a breath through his nose as he steps back, gripping the strap of a bag slung over his shoulder. Seeing the backpack, my jaw drops. “Are you coming back to school?”

The genuine horror in my voice makes him flinch. There’d been a bit of light in his eyes, but it’s gone now. His face closes off. “No, I’m not coming back to school here.”

He adjusts that strap again, then switches the backpack to his other shoulder while glaring at the ground. I’ve offended him. Or maybe he just still hates me. I wouldn’t blame him. I got his best friend killed, after all. I hate me.

Seeing him reminds me of that night all over again. The events replay in my mind with vivid detail. Everything from finding Wes and stopping him from doing something unthinkable, to the kiss, to the fight, and finally the accident and Wes holding me back while paramedics did their best to try and save Spencer’s life.

One look at his face, and I can tell Wes is thinking about the same events. He closes his eyes and takes a breath. When he looks at me again, his expression has smoothed out. “How are you?” he asks. “You know…today.”

I swallow back a lump of emotion. I’m not surprised that Wes knows today is Spencer’s and my anniversary, but his acknowledgement of it feels like a knife in my heart. Why does he care? He hated that Spencer and I were together, and he used to get so cranky on this day every year.

“What’s today?” someone behind me murmurs. “It’s not the anniversary of Spencer’s death. That’s not for a couple weeks.”

A crowd of students have gathered to watch the drama. I don’t know who spoke, but I wish I could make them all disappear. Could people be any more tactless? Why can’t they just mind their own business?

When my eyes start to burn, I turn to leave. I can’t stand here any longer.

Wes puts a hand on my shoulder to stop me. “Bay, wait.”

I freeze. Aside from that night, Wes hasn’t used my nickname since I got together with Spencer and he started hating me for stealing his best friend.

Wes lets me go and rubs a hand over his head. “Sorry. I just—we should really talk.”

“Don’t.” With a quivering voice and stinging eyes, I whisper, “I can’t do this. Not today.” Maybe not ever.

I can’t take it anymore. I can’t stare into those knowing eyes for another second. My guilt is bad enough without seeing his sadness and anger.

Wes doesn’t say anything as I leave, doesn’t try to stop me. I head straight for my car and don’t care if I get in trouble for leaving. All that matters is getting far, far away from here. I’m not really running from Wes. I’m running from the past. Running from myself. Those are two things I will never escape, but I run anyway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek! If you want to read the rest, here’s the link. It’s available on Amazon and free to read in Kindle Unlimited!

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR COPY!!

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