“Yeah, and I don’t know. I’ve worked so hard to get into NYU, and I’ve already enrolled in my summer classes and everything. It just seems like a waste not to go, but it seems pointless to go at the same time.” His fingers rub circles over his temples. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You shouldn’t go,” I say. “It would be really awkward.”

“It’s a big city: we’ll never run into each other. And besides, we’ll still be friends.”

“Sure, the whole ‘friends’ thing.” I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Why didn’t you tell Tessa what was going on?” I ask him. She’s going to be heartbroken for him.

“Tess has—” he begins.

“Tess-a,” I correct him.

“—has enough on her plate. I don’t want her worrying for me.”

“You want me to keep this from her, don’t you?” I point out. I can tell by his guilty expression that he does.

“Only for now, until she catches a break. She’s too stressed lately, and I’m afraid one of these days something will tip her over the edge.” His concern for my girl is strong, and slightly irritating, but I decide against my better judgment and keep my mouth closed.

I groan. “She’ll kill me for this, you know that.” But I don’t want to tell her either. He’s right: she has enough going on, and I’m to blame for ninety percent of it.

“There’s more . . .” he begins.

Of course there is.

“It’s my mom, she—” But a light knock at the door silences him.

“Landon? Hardin?” Tessa’s voice sounds through the wood.

“Come in,” Landon calls, all the while looking at me with pleading eyes to reaffirm my promise of keeping his breakup from Tessa.

“I know,” I assure him as the door opens and Tessa steps inside carrying a plate and the thick smell of syrup with her.

“Karen wanted you two to try these.” She rests the plate on the desk and looks at me, then quickly turns to Landon with a smile. “Try the maple squares first. Sophia taught us how to properly ice them . . . See the little flowers.” Her small finger points to the clots of icing piled onto the brown crust. “She taught us how to make those; she’s so lovely.”

“Who?” Landon asks, his brow raised.

“Sophia; she just left to go back to her parents’ house down the road. Your mother really went crazy getting tons of baking secrets from her.” Tessa smiles and brings a square to her mouth. I knew she’d like that girl. I could tell instantly that the three of them would squeal over one another in the kitchen—it’s why I had to bolt.

“Oh.” Landon shrugs and reaches for a square. Tessa apprehensively holds the plate out to me and I shake my head, declining. Her shoulders slump but she doesn’t say anything.

“I’ll have a square,” I mumble, wanting her frown to go away. I’ve been an asshole all morning. She perks up and hands me one. The so-called flowers on the top look like globs of yellow snot. “You must have iced this one,” I tease her, pulling her by the wrist to sit on my lap.

“That was a practice one!” She defends herself with her defiant lift of the chin. I can tell she’s confused by my sudden shift in mood. Actually, so am I.

“Sure, baby.” I grin and she flicks a piece of the yellow icing onto my shirt.

She pouts. “I’m no chef, okay?”

I look at Landon, who has his mouth full of cupcake while he stares at the ground. I dip my finger onto my shirt to remove the icing, and before Tessa can stop me, I wipe my finger across her nose, smearing the hideous yellow across it.

“Hardin!” She tries to wipe it off, but I gather her hands in mine, the pastries falling to the floor.

“Oh, come on, guys!” Landon shakes his head at us. “My room’s already a mess!”

Ignoring him, I resume licking the icing from Tessa’s scrunched-up nose.

“I’ll help you clean up!” She laughs as my tongue runs along her cheek.

“You know, I miss the days when you wouldn’t even hold her hand in front of me,” Landon complains. He bends down to collect the broken squares and smashed cupcakes from his floor.

I sure as hell don’t miss those days, and I hope Tessa doesn’t either.

“DID YOU LIKE the maple squares, Hardin?” Karen asks while pulling a ham from the oven and sliding it onto a cutting board.

“They were okay.” I shrug my shoulders and take a seat at the table. When Tessa shoots me a glare from the seat next to me, and I backtrack. “They were good,” I say, earning a smile from my girl. I’ve finally begun to realize that the tiniest things make her smile. It’s weird as hell, but it works, so I’m going with it.

My father turns to me. “How is your graduation packet coming along?” He lifts his glass of water and takes a sip, looking much better than he did when I saw him in his office last week.

“Good, it’s completed. I’m not going to walk, remember?” I know he remembers; he’s just hoping that I’ve changed my mind.

“What do you mean, you’re not going to walk?” Tessa interrupts, which causes Karen to look up and stop carving the ham.

Fucking hell. “I’m not walking in that graduation, I’m having my diploma mailed,” I reply sternly. This isn’t going to turn into a trample-Hardin-and-change-his-mind thing.

“Why not?” Tessa asks, which makes my father look pleased. That asshole planned this, I know he did.

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