A poignant new story about a girl trying to change her future while evading her past is coming next week from K.A. Tucker, and I have a sneak peek for you.
My eyes are closed and rhythmic music pulsates through my earbuds when a knock sounds on my bedroom door.
“Come in!” I hit pause on my playlist.
The door eases open.
“Hey, your mom asked me to—bring these in.”
I bolt upright in bed as a towering guy with wavy chestnut brown hair strolls in, his arms loaded with two cardboard boxes, his lips pressed together firmly as if trying not to laugh.
Cassie trails him, her mouth splitting wide with a grin when she sees me. “Your face is green!” she declares with a bark of laughter.
And burning red beneath this mud mask.
“Why is your face green?”
“It’s just … nothing,” I mumble.
“Is it a face mask?” she presses.
“Where do you want these?” the guy asks, having the decency to avert his gaze.
“Over there?” I croak, pointing to the shelves by the window, desperate to tunnel beneath my sheets. As if the mask isn’t bad enough, my hair is piled messily on top of my head and I’m wearing an old cotton T-shirt with my former high school’s logo and boxer shorts that, while comfortable beyond compare, are far from cute.
“This is my brother, Emmett. He just got home from the United States,” Cassie introduces proudly as he leans over to set the boxes on the floor, giving me a great view of his muscular arms and the shape of his broad back, straining beneath the weight. “This is Aria with a green face. She likes dogs, just like me, and she hates tomatoes, just like me.” The introduction comes out in one long string of words, using her slightly offbeat inflections.
Emmett eases to his feet. “Hello, Aria with a green face who likes dogs and hates tomatoes.” His smile is wide and broad, and shows off his perfect white teeth and two deep-set dimples in his cheeks. His eyes are a rich, dark brown and they complement his olive-toned skin. His nose is angular and in perfect proportion. His jawline is square and solid, any hint of boyishness gone.
Much like my ragged ensemble, this guy is far from cute.
I swallow my embarrassment. “Yeah. Hey.”
“Look what Emmett brought me!” Cassie holds up a stuffed animal in a burgundy jersey with a yellow “M” across the front. “His name is Goldy Gopher. He’s a hockey mascot. I love mascots. Do you like mascots?”
“I don’t know? Maybe?” What I do know is that Ireally don’t want to carry on a conversation about mascots with my hot neighbor and his sister while I look like this.
“So, we’ll … uh …” Emmett casts his thumb toward the door.
“Yeah. Good. I mean …” I shake my head, cringing at myself.
“You have stars!” Cassie’s wide eyes lock on the stickers above my bed.
“Yeah.” More humiliation to add to tonight’s collection. Mom “stumbled upon them” in the wallpaper section at Home Depot. Truthfully, I think she went looking for them. She’s like that when she gets something in her head. I plastered on a fake smile instead of telling her I’m too old for glow-in-the-dark stars.
“I like your room. It looks different.” Cassie’s eyes drift, scanning the space as if memorizing it.
“See you around, Aria.” Emmett ruffles Cassie’s hair on his way past, and then hooks an arm around her shoulders and steers her toward the door. She stiffens. “Come on. Let’s give green-faced Aria some privacy,” he mock-whispers, earning her burst of childlike laughter.
He pulls my door shut, but not before turning back to offer one last devastatingly handsome look, his brown eyes twinkling with amusement.
And in that moment, beneath a cluster of tacky glow-in-the-dark stars, my face green with clay and red with embarrassment, I fall hopelessly in love with the boy next door.
As soon as the door clicks, I flop back into my bed with a groan.