The blow I feel at those words is as familiar as my father’s sneer. His threats to cut me off worked for years—until I finally cut myself free—and I can’t help but wonder what would have come of my life if Marston had called his bluff.

“I argued at first. I’d come all that way and . . .” He looks down at his bourbon, his jaw twitching. “I left the house and went into town, thinking I’d catch you later, but his words kept echoing in my head. I decided I needed to go. It’d been a year and you looked so happy. You were doing fine without me, and I didn’t want to ruin your plans.”

“So you left.” I don’t mean for my words to sound like such an accusation, but they do. I was incredibly lonely during those years—isolated from my friends, trying and failing to prove I could hack it as a mother. If I looked happy, it was because I was holding Cami. She was the only light in my life. Even now, when life has gotten so much better and there’s so much good around me, she still shines brightest.

“It was the right choice, wasn’t it?” he asks. If I tell him the truth—that I wish he’d stayed, that I wish he’d at least let me know he’d cared enough to come—it might break something in him that I have no right to break.

I offer a small truth instead. “It was the only choice.”

“I thought that—” He cuts himself off and shakes his head. “Never mind. I don’t want to talk about that tonight.”

Me neither. I lean forward and press a kiss to his throat. “What do I have to do to talk you into taking me somewhere more private?”

Chapter Eight

Brinley

October 19th, before

“So, tomorrow night?” Roman asks, tugging on a lock of my hair and smiling.

I take a sip of my mocha. “I still need to ask my mom, but if she says yes . . .” I smile. I’m trying to convince myself it’d be nice to go out with Roman again. It would go a long way to getting Mom off my back, and maybe it would help me get over Marston.

Until Roman decided to be a dick at my birthday party, I really liked him. He apologized the next day, and if it hadn’t been for Marston, we probably would’ve gotten back together. But instead of throwing myself into Roman’s arms when he said how awful he felt, I accepted his apology and went about my day.

I was too preoccupied with the first boy who kissed me to give much thought to the guy who missed his chance. But since Mom found us in my room, Marston has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with me. Meanwhile, for the past week, Roman has been waiting at my locker with a mocha every morning and after swim practice to walk me home every evening.

Isn’t it healthier to spend my time and energy on a guy who’s interested in me in return?

“If she says yes, then what?” Roman prods, inching closer. “I want to hear you say it.”

“Then I’ll go to the drive-in with you.”

The first bell rings, and he grins and pulls away. “I promise she’ll say yes. I’ll make sure of it.” He smacks my butt lightly then walks away toward his first-hour class. “See you after practice.”

I wave goodbye, but his words echo in my head. “I’ll make sure of it.” That probably means his parents are going to talk to my parents about this potential date. That shouldn’t annoy me—that’s the way things work in my family—but it does. I want to date boys who are sweet, regardless of what my parents think of their social standing. Boys who like me despite my family’s influence and not because of it.

I grab the books for my first two classes from my locker and slam it shut. When I spin around to head to first hour, Marston is standing in my way—shocking, since it seems like I can look for him all week and barely catch a glimpse of him, but now that I’m determined to move on, here he is.

“The drive-in?” he asks. The hallways are clearing out as everyone tries to get to their seats before the tardy bell.

“Hey, Marston.”

His scowl might have intimidated me if I didn’t know he was such a nice guy deep down. “Why doesn’t he just come right out and ask you to give it up to him in the back of his car?”

I bristle. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t.” He lifts one shoulder in a lopsided shrug. “Do what you want. I’m just surprised that you’re dating him after what he did to you on your birthday.”

“He apologized. He was upset about a fight he’d had with his parents and took it out on me.”

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