From the author of A Thousand Boy Kisses comes a new emotional novel, and I have a sneak peek for you. A Wish For Us is available now.
I didn’t know what to think as I sat beside Cromwell.
The way he’d looked as he’d smoked next to the tree. Like he was trapped in some kind of nightmare. He’d been shaking. His face was pale as he stared at the pianist like she was a ghost. It mirrored how he was the night in the music room. The flash of fear I’d seen in him as he looked at my work in the coffee shop. As though just the sound, sight, and reading of musical notes pulled him into some horror he didn’t want to face.
It was at these times he acted the most cruel. The most harsh. But it was also when my heart cried out for him the most. Because I understood what fear could do to a person. I could see something held him in its thrall. But I just didn’t know what. I didn’t know how to help.
When the orchestra finished, I got to my feet and applauded with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Cromwell stayed sitting on the grass. My heart beat loudly in my chest as I looked down at him. He was watching me. His blue eyes were fixed on me. His tattoos were like prized paintings on his bare arms. His piercings glittered in the stage lights. His muscular frame and tall height seemed to take up all of the grass and his presence to consume all the air in our vicinity.
I turned my head, focusing on the orchestra taking their bows. I could feel his eyes still on me. It made nervous shivers rattle down my spine. Because every time I saw Cromwell, every time we spoke, I heard the broken boy in his voice. And I saw him hunched over the piano, crying. And I heard the music he’d been playing so perfectly circling around my brain.
It was hard to dislike a person when you knew they were in pain.
When the orchestra left the stage, people began to disperse. I leaned down to pick up my things. I packed everything away into my basket and finally let myself look at Cromwell. He was staring straight forward, his arms around his bent knees. I thought he would have gone by now. That was his usual behavior. But then nothing about Cromwell was making sense to me anymore.
“You okay?” I asked, and he looked up at me, eyes still glazed and lost.
Cromwell nodded, then silently stood and fell into step beside me as we walked toward the exit. He reached over and took my basket from my hands. My heart melted a little at that.
I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling freezing cold. “I thought you’d be out tonight. At the bar. Or the Barn. Playing your music.”
“No.” He didn’t elaborate further.
When we reached the main gates, I heard the sound of a horn. I looked over the road to see my mama in her car. “I’m over there,” I said, turning to Cromwell. His eyebrows were furrowed. “It’s my mama.” I ducked my head, cheeks on fire. “I’ve been staying with them this week while I’ve been sick.” Damn. I sounded like a kid who had to run home to her mama at the littlest thing that was wrong.
I was nineteen. I knew what it looked like. I hated to think that Cromwell would think me pathetic. But by the way he was looking at me, I didn’t think he did. In fact, the way he was looking at me made me breathless. It was intense, and open. Cromwell was always guarded, an island unto himself. But tonight there was a shift, where before I’d only seen glimpses.
There was one thing I was sure my heart couldn’t take, and that was Cromwell Dean being sweet to me. I wasn’t equipped for the kind of emotion it inspired.
I took the basket from his hands and rocked on my feet. “Thank you Cromwell. For carrying the basket.”
Cromwell nodded, then looked over his shoulder as a group of people spilled out of Wood Knocks. I sighed. I knew that was where he’d be going after this. That was his life.
It wasn’t mine. I’d do right to remember that before my head ran away with its thoughts.
“Night.” I turned and started walking to my mama’s car.
“Are you going to be in class again this week?” I stopped dead. Cromwell Dean was asking me about class?
I looked over my shoulder at him. “Should be,” I said, then couldn’t help but ask, “Why?”
Cromwell rubbed the back of his tattooed neck with his hand. His jaw clenched. “Just asking.”
“We have that project to get started on, remember?” He nodded his head. It seemed as though he wanted to say something. But he didn’t. He just stood there, switching between awkwardly watching me or watching the road. As I roved my eyes over the people milling about, Cromwell stood out like a sore thumb. His tattoos, his piercings, his clothes, his dark hair and dark blue eyes.
“Should we meet Wednesday?” I said, and his shoulders stiffened.
Cromwell rolled his tongue ring in his mouth. I’d noticed he did that whenever he was faced with something he wasn’t sure he should do. When he was conflicted, especially when it came to music. I watched him fight that simple question, before he met my eyes and gave me a single nod. “Night, Cromwell,” I said again.
Cromwell didn’t say it back. He turned away in the direction of the bar. I didn’t go to my mama’s car until he had pushed through the door, a blast of music escaping as it opened. I turned and got into the car.