“A good sign that he’s a dick.”

“He’s not . . .” I shake my head. “I’m not doing this with you. You kiss me and then avoid me for weeks. You don’t get to weigh in on who I do or don’t date.”

I stomp off to class, but I barely hear a word in my first three classes. At lunch, I’m too sick to my stomach to eat, and I don’t even know why. Is it because of what Marston said about Roman? It doesn’t matter what Marston thinks about the guys I date. But the feeling follows me through the rest of my day, and instead of getting a snack between the final bell and swim practice, I tell the coach I’m not feeling well. I would head home and hide in my room, but Dad’s working at his home office today, and he’ll chew my ass out if he realizes I’m missing practice, so I linger. I chat with a few friends in the parking lot, declining half a dozen offers for a ride home. Only when everyone’s cleared out do I start walking—the long way.

When I pass the marching band supply shed, someone grabs my arm and pulls me inside, away from the view of the cars merging onto the road. Marston has the same scowl from this morning on his handsome face as he kicks the door closed. The shed is crowded with old props and plywood scraps, and the only light filters in from high, dusty windows.

“What the heck, Marston?” My objection comes out too weak. It’s the objection of a girl who knows it’s bullshit to be treated like this but who’s so desperate for the attention that she doesn’t really mind. I am pathetic.

“We need to talk,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Normal people do that in less creepy places. Maybe over coffee or, oh, I don’t know, when they’re already hanging out together at the lake. Not in the supply shed.”

“I can’t exactly have this conversation anywhere it might get back to your parents that you’re talking to a delinquent, can I?”

Guilt punches me in the gut. He did hear Mom that day in my room. “Marston . . .” What can I say? She didn’t mean it? She absolutely did.

He leans his head back, frustration all over his face. “What do you want me to do, Brinley? Watch you date an asshole and pretend I don’t care?”

“It’s not like you want me,” I snap . . . and immediately realize my mistake. The right response would’ve been to defend Roman or to tell Marston he doesn’t get to have a say in who I date. Instead, I made it about us. Not that there really is an us.

I’m an idiot.

He swallows hard. “It doesn’t matter what I want.” The words are so soft that I can barely hear them. Maybe he hoped I wouldn’t hear them at all.

“It does to me.” I step forward and lift a hand to the side of his face. He closes his eyes as if he’s been starved for my touch and he’s afraid this isn’t real. “I like you, Marston Rowe. I’m just trying to figure out if you like me too.” I wait with my palm pressed to his cheek, my body a breath from his. I wait for him to kiss me or push me away or tell me I’m a stupid girl.

Instead, he takes three deep breaths before finally opening his eyes, and when he looks at me, I see so much anguish in his expression that it makes my chest ache. “Roman is talking about how he’s going to sleep with you at the movies.”

“What? No way! How would you even know that?”

He blows out a breath. “I was using the weight room over the weekend when the football team showed up for conditioning. His friends were giving him a hard time for not being able to close the deal with you. He’s apparently decided he needs to get between your legs to protect his reputation.”

I drop my hand. I don’t want to believe it, but . . . well, I’m close enough to Smithy to know how the boys at this school talk, how they prove themselves.

“You deserve better.” He stares at me for a long time before ducking his head and turning to the door.

I step in front of him before he can reach for the handle. “I know.” I swallow and force myself to meet his eyes. “I know I deserve better.”

“Then . . .” He shakes his head. “Why?”

“I’m lonely. I know that sounds ridiculous, but if you knew what it was like to live with my dad, you—”

“No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t sound ridiculous. It sounds human . . . to search for connection.” He scans my face as if he’s trying to read my mind. “Your sister’s sick, and your parents are ass—” He grimaces and searches for another word. “Your parents are hard on you.”

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