A heart-wrenching story about love and loss, hopes and dreams, family and friendships, and second chances is out now from Rebecca Yarros, and I have a never seen before excerpt for you from Josh’s POV.
The hum of the motor drowned out the shrieks of the girl pressed against my back as we sped around the corner of the parking lot. Karla? No. Kaitlyn. Maybe. All the blondes at this school started to blur together after the first month. I parked my bike in the senior parking lot and killed the engine.
Kaitlyn smacked my shoulder as she climbed off the back, a flurry of short skirt and tan thighs. “Were you trying to kill me?” She ripped the extra helmet off her head.
I shrugged my shoulders, tucking my helmet under my arm. “Trust me, I’ve gone faster. Besides, you said you wanted a thrill, right? Was our little lunch break not thrilling enough for you, Kaitlyn?” She’d been screaming my name, so I couldn’t imagine why there’d be a reason for complaint.
She turned as maroon as her letterman’s jacket and threw the helmet at my chest. “It’s Kelly, you asshole.”
Shit. I flashed my damage-control smile. “I’m so sorry, I was just distracted by how pretty you are, and it slipped out. Of course you’re Kelly.” My hands found her curved hips, and I pulled her in for a kiss.
She melted right into me and sighed as I backed away a moment later. “It’s okay. We do kind of look alike. I have to get to class. I’ll forgive you if you call me.”
“Sure thing,” I lied. A coy smile later, she was gone, and I could breathe. We hadn’t even been going that fast. I’d kill for a race, a real one, where the adrenaline spiked and everything but the bike faded away. I missed the wins, but not as much as I missed Winslow. That was the deal Mom struck with the local sheriff. Turned out the cops didn’t really appreciate me putting together street races, as entertaining as they were to the underage public in our very tiny town. I didn’t get charged with six counts of reckless driving or the federal charges that came with my fifty-plus-over-the-limit speeding violations, but she had to take me out of the county. I’d only had my license three months, and she moved us all the way to Colorado where my long hair was one of many attributes that marked me an outsider. Mom didn’t half-ass anything.
Once the helmets were stored in my saddlebags, I headed toward the auditorium. The bell announced that I was tardy for sixth period, but I knew Mr. Andrusyk wouldn’t care.
The October wind picked up as I reached the door handle, blowing my hair across my mouth. I pushed it back and walked inside the lobby of the auditorium.
One of the freshmen presented their project in a shaky voice from the stage, so I bypassed the main door and snuck in the side. Applause sounded as I spotted Mr. Andrusyk in the center of the auditorium. I worked my way down to him as another student took the stage.
“December Howard!” he called out. “You’re up!”
I stopped midstride, my eyes glued to the slight figure headed toward the microphone. December Howard. She was dressed conservatively as usual, all legs like a baby deer and no curves to speak of—the opposite of the D cups I’d had my hands on an hour ago, but she had these giant blue eyes that cut through the bullshit that thrived around here. A transfer student, too, she was the only girl in this school who intrigued me, and the only girl I stayed far the hell away from. After all, she was a freshman, practically a baby, where I’d be old enough to vote in a few weeks.
“It’s Ember,” she corrected softly, lowering the mic to her height. She cleared her throat. “I’ll b-b-be presenting my debate outline on the importance of school uniforms,” she began. Her hands shook on her notecards. A few of the kids snickered, and I squeezed the back of a chair to keep from squeezing their mouths shut. F*cking little assholes.
“C-c-can you start?” one of the guys called out a few rows ahead, laughing.
It was one of the freshmen on our hockey team, and I smiled, knowing he’d be skating sprints all f*cking night tonight for that one. Being captain had its privileges. “Shut your mouth, Jones,” I warned him, which earned me an I-might-shit-my-pants, wide-eyed stare when the kid saw it was me, and rolled eyes with a thumbs up from Mr. A several seats away.
December squinted in my direction, but I knew with the light, I was a row or two out of eyesight.
“Come on,” I whispered, like she could hear me. Like my opinion mattered. “You’ve got this.”
She bit her lip, tucked a long strand of wavy, red hair behind her ear and took a deep breath. Then she raised her eyes, leveled the group of asshats with one very superior arched eyebrow, and started presenting like her first sentence hadn’t even happened. I sat right where I was, uncaring that I hadn’t gotten my work from Mr. A yet, and listened to her speak, entranced. She was smart, and had this quiet, inner strength that made me stare a little longer. She was as unique as her name, a bright flash of color in an otherwise earth-toned student body, and she’d captivated me since the first week of school.
I’d caught her stopping to help another girl clean the lipsticked word “slut” off her locker. The other girl had been huddled in on herself, crying as she tried to open her combination lock. Before I could even get across the hallway, December had pushed through the gawking crowd, pulled cleaning wipes out of her purse—who the hell kept cleaning wipes in their purse?—and went to work scrubbing the red mess off the metal.
The look she’d just given during her presentation today was the same she’d aimed at the semicircle of rabid freshmen then, saying, “How would you feel if it was your locker?” Boom. I was sunk, admiring a damn freshman I’d never given a second glance to before.
Finding her in the class I kept grades for? A torturous perk, since I stayed far enough away that she never saw me. A girl like that needed nothing to do with me. She needed someone her own age, who wasn’t as jaded, as experienced, or as likely to f*ck her over. Not to mention someone who could teach her how to kiss without worrying that cops would come after him for violating state laws. I’d never been one to keep my hands to myself.
She finished up her presentation, and amid the applause, one of the blond Ken dolls called out, “Way to go, Ember!”
She smiled shyly at him, and an ache pulsed in my chest. What the hell was wrong with me? I did not get jealous, ever, because that implied caring beyond finding out the color of some girl’s underwear. But just because I didn’t want to know the color of her panties didn’t mean I wanted Frankie-freshman to know, either.
I rubbed my fingers over my forehead. Get it together, or you’ll act on it. And if you act on it, she won’t be so shiny anymore because you’ll ruin her. You’ll kill her spark and turn her into another Abercrombie Barbie.
“Walker!” Kyle Bilton, another senior, whispered from the aisle next to me, and I jumped.
“What?” I snapped.
“Dude, you’d better get up to the parking lot. Kaitlyn Rivera is pissed.”
“Kaitlyn?” Which one was Kaitlyn?
“Yeah, something to do with her twin, Kelly?”
“You’d better run, she’s beating the shit out of your bike.”
I looked one last time over at December, and then broke into a run toward the parking lot. Yeah, she needed someone like me like a hole in her head. But with her vibrancy, her honesty and that spark she had, well…damn if I didn’t need to be near her, just to see if some of that would rub off on me.