Two Years Earlier
I took a deep breath as I passed the sign indicating I was entering the Santa Monica trailer park. I knew what I would probably find here, but I couldn’t help from holding on to just a small piece of hope. I was still so angry with him, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel if I knew he were truly gone. As much as I hated him, I still loved him. I was such a stupid, stupid girl.
I’d thought that I’d found true love with Jesse Daniels, but all he’d managed to do was break my heart. Why did it have to be her? Of all the girls in the world, he had cheated on me with Ally—the one person who despised me.
Looking back at everything that had happened, I now knew that she was the reason for all of it. I’d known from the start that she didn’t like me, but I could never understand why. Now, I did. She loved Jesse. It was so obvious to me now that I wasn’t sure how I’d missed it in the beginning. But as that old saying went, hindsight was twenty-twenty.
I couldn’t change what Ally and Jesse had done to me. I could only accept it and learn from it. They had certainly made me grow up, that was for sure. I wasn’t the naive little girl who trusted anyone and everyone anymore. I was jaded, and I was pissed.
I pulled up to Jesse’s house. My heart dropped when I saw the For Rent sign hanging from the porch banister. It felt like a slap in the face to see it there, but I shouldn’t have expected any less. In my heart, I knew he was gone. A small part of me had hoped he’d simply unenrolled from my highschool, Hamrick High, and gone back to his old school instead of leaving California completely. Now, I knew. He was thousands of miles away from me in West Virginia with his mom and her boyfriend.
A tap on my window startled me, and I screamed. My heart was beating like crazy as I looked over to see Andy standing there with a frown on his face. Thank God. I wasn’t exactly in the best part of town, and I had been afraid that it was a stranger who wanted to rob me. I knew my expensive car could bring me some unwanted attention around here. I rolled my window down as I willed my wildly pounding heart to slow down. I knew Andy, and he wasn’t someone who would hurt me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked once my window was down.
“I don’t know.”
He looked at me like I was nuts.
“I mean, I know why I’m here. I just don’t know why I even wanted to see if he was still here. He hurt me, yet here I am, checking in to see if he’s really gone.”
“I get it, I do. You cared a lot about the asshole.”
“Asshole? I thought he was your best friend.”
“He was—until he slept with my sister and then kicked her out of his bed the next day. He’s lucky I didn’t beat the shit out of him.”
“Oh, so you know?”
He nodded. “I do. I’m sorry that he hurt you so badly. You’re a sweet girl, Emma. You didn’t deserve that.”
“Why do you care?” I asked.
Andy seemed like a good guy, but we’d never been friends before. I’d assumed that he was only nice to me because I was with Jesse. Plus, he had never tried to hide the fact that he slept around a lot. Usually, guys like him were assholes.
“Because Jesse hurt you and my sister. I’m not the best guy in the world, but even I have morals. There are two things you don’t do—cheat and screw your best friend’s sister. Jesse managed to do both at once. We’re no longer friends, and I made sure to let him know that before he left.”
“And here I thought you were the womanizing asshole. I think I had you two backward. You’re the nice one, and he’s the asshole.”
Andy laughed. “No, I’m still a womanizing asshole. I just don’t think it’s okay to cheat. That’s the reason I’ve never had a girlfriend. I know how I am, and I wouldn’t want some poor girl to have a broken heart, thanks to me.”
At least he was honest. I felt tears filling my eyes. I wish Jesse could have been as honest as Andy. Instead, Jesse had used me and broken me. I had given him everything because I thought he loved me when he was actually laughing at me behind my back.
“Hey, don’t cry. I was trying to make you feel better by telling you that I’m a complete asshole,” Andy said.
“I wish Jesse were as honest as you.”
“He normally is. I don’t know what happened with you two and Ally, and I don’t want to know. Why don’t you come over to my house? I’ll feed you ice cream or something like that. Ice cream always makes girls feel better, right?”
I laughed. “I’d prefer alcohol at this point, but I think I’ll pass. I don’t know what I’d do if I saw Ally.”
“Ally is never home anymore. You have a better chance of seeing Jesse there today than you do of seeing Ally. Come on, let’s get you some ice cream. Maybe if you’re extra nice, I’ll give you some alcohol, too. I’m not usually this sweet, so you better take me up on my offer.”
I studied him carefully. Andy had always seemed like a nice guy, but I wasn’t sure if I could stand to be around him. He was just another reminder of Jesse, and right now, I didn’t need one of those.
“I don’t know…”
“It’s cookie dough ice cream,” he said as he smiled down at me.
“Well, how am I supposed to say no to that? I can’t stay long though. I don’t want to take a chance of seeing Ally there.” I smiled up at him as I wondered what the hell I was doing.
“Fair enough. Just park your car beside mine in my driveway. I’ll see you in a second.”
He turned and walked down the road to his house as I started my car and backed out of Jesse’s driveway.
It’s not Jesse’s anymore, I mentally reminded myself. Jesse is gone.
I followed behind Andy, still unsure of whether or not this was a good idea. I wanted to forget that Jesse ever existed, and if I ended up being friends with Andy, there was no chance of that. In my head, Andy and Jesse were one since they’d been around each other so much when I was with Jesse.
I pulled in beside an old rusted Chevy Cavalier and stepped out. After locking my car, I stepped up onto Andy’s porch and followed him inside his house. The layout was identical to Jesse’s. The kitchen was off to the right with the living room to the left. Past the living room was the hall that I knew led back to the bedrooms. Jesse and his mom had always kept their house spotless, and while Andy’s wasn’t gross, it was messy. It was obvious that two teenagers lived here.
“Sorry for the mess. I was going to clean today, but then I went surfing.”
“You sound like Jesse. He liked to surf all the time, too.”
“We’re California boys. It’s in our blood.”
“I guess it is,” I said as I walked to the couch and sat down.
Andy came out of the kitchen with a tub of cookie dough ice cream and two beers. I thanked him as I grabbed the tub and one of the beers from him. I sighed happily as I took the first bite of ice cream. Andy was right—ice cream always made things better.
“Want to watch some TV while you eat?” Andy asked as he grabbed the remote.
“We don’t have a DVD player, but we do have cable. I’m sure we can find something to watch.” He turned on the TV and started flipping through channels.
I groaned when he stopped on a channel with one of the Saw movies playing. “I hate scary movies.”
“This isn’t scary. It’s all about mind games.”
“I’ve never seen any of them, but I’ve heard they’re gory.”
“Whoa, wait a minute. You’ve never watched a Saw movie before?”
I shook my head. “Nope, never.”
“Okay, now, we have to watch it. You’ll love it.”
“I seriously doubt that.” I popped the top off my beer and took a drink.
“Trust me, you will. And it looks like you’re in luck. They’re doing a Saw marathon day. You can watch them all.”
“Lucky me,” I grumbled as I nursed my beer.
“Chicken,” he coughed out under his breath.
“I am not! I just don’t want to watch people die and stuff.”
“And stuff? Really?”
“Shut up, and watch your damn movie.”
He laughed as he threw the remote down onto the coffee table and leaned back into the couch.
As we watched the first movie, I had to admit that it was pretty good. I would cringe from time to time when something was too gross, but other than that, I was fine. I put away my ice cream halfway through the first movie and grabbed us both new beers from the fridge. I had to admit that hanging out with Andy was actually kind of fun, and he was taking my mind off of everything happening in my life.
By the time the third movie started, the coffee table was littered with beer bottles, and I was starting to feel the effects of the alcohol coursing through my blood. Andy seemed to still be sober, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to look like a lightweight, so I kept my mouth shut.
“I’m tired,” I mumbled as I rested my head against Andy’s arm.
“You can’t fall asleep on me. We have to finish the movie!” Andy said as he pulled me against him and wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
“I’m not going to fall asleep, I promise. I just need to rest my eyes.” I closed my eyes and relaxed into Andy. God, he smells good. I had no idea how I hadn’t noticed this before. I inhaled deeply, breathing in his scent.
I dozed on and off as the movie played. I would jump and snuggle in closer to Andy when someone on TV screamed in terror. I must have finally fallen asleep toward the end because when I woke up, the house was dark, and the TV was off.
I could feel Andy rubbing my lower back underneath my shirt. I knew I shouldn’t like it, but it felt so damn good. I’d been so alone this past month, but I didn’t feel that way with Andy next to me. I took another deep breath, instantly regretting it. Between his scent and his hand rubbing my back, I felt myself starting to become aroused. I knew this was a bad idea and that I needed to leave, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
His hand slipped lower until he was teasing the top of my shorts. My breathing grew heavy as I tried not to pay attention to what his hand was doing.
“Emma? Are you okay?” Andy whispered in the darkness.
Life sucks. It had taken me a while to realize that, but it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. The only positive is that you learn from your experiences, and you grow.
Two years ago, I’d certainly grown up when I walked in on the boy I thought I loved in bed with one of his best friends. I’d learned to let him go as time passed—or at least I thought I had.
Now, I wasn’t so sure. There are people who pass through your life who forever change you and everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world. Jesse was one of them.
It had been two years since I’d left him standing in his driveway, but I’d never been able to let him go completely.
I’d debated this decision for months. I’d told myself over and over that it was stupid and pointless, but I think I always knew that I would end up here. I knew that Jesse had been a part of my old life, my old self, but I couldn’t get my heart to accept that little fact.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly as I drove down I-79 from the Pittsburgh airport to my new school. Up ahead, I saw the sign welcoming me to my new state. It was ridiculous to be nervous at the sight of a simple sign. The chances of him ending up at the same school as me were slim to none.
Then, why am I here?
I took a deep breath as I glanced up at the sign just before I drove past it.
Welcome to West Virginia.
“You okay?” Andy asked from the passenger seat.
“Yeah, I’m just nervous.”
“Don’t be. This is a whole new experience for you. You can be whoever you want here, and no one will know you’re the rich girl from Santa Monica. You can tell them you’ve been living in a box or something.”
“I’m not nervous about anyone finding out who my dad is. I’m nervous about the fact that I might see Jesse again.”
“I know. I was being sarcastic. I know it’s pointless to tell you not to stress, but I’m going to—again. Don’t stress. If you and Jesse were meant to be together, things will work out. If you two weren’t meant to be, you’ll find someone else.”
“You make it sound so easy. I just want to find him, so I can at least apologize for assuming the worst. He tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen.”
“If I’d walked in on my girlfriend in bed with another guy, I would have thought the same thing you did. You can’t be angry with yourself. You were trying to protect yourself from being hurt.”
“I’d still like to punch Ally.”
Andy snorted. “I’m her brother, and I want to punch her for what she did.”
After Jesse had left, Andy and I became good friends. Ally hated that little fact, and she’d refused to speak to her brother for months. When she finally had, she’d dropped a bomb on him. I still felt sick to my stomach every time I thought about that day.
Andy called me one afternoon just as I was leaving school. “Hey, Emma. Can you come over to my house for a while? I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I’ll head over now. What’s wrong?”
“I’ll see you when you get here,” Andy said before he ended the call.
All the way to his house, I was terrified of what he wanted to tell me. I had no idea what it could be, but I was afraid that it had something to do with Jesse. I was just starting to let him go, and I wasn’t sure what I would do if I found out he had moved back.
Out of habit, I glanced at Jesse’s old house when I drove past.
A new family was living there now. They’d moved in just over a month ago. The first time I’d driven by and noticed cars in the parking spaces, I’d nearly had a panic attack. I’d run into Andy’s house, freaking out about it, until he’d calmed me down enough to tell me that it wasn’t Jesse.
“What’s up?” I asked nervously after walking into his house.
Andy had become one of my best friends, and I never bothered to knock anymore.
“Sit down. I need to talk to you,” Andy said.
“You’re starting to freak me out. What’s wrong?”
“Ally finally decided to talk to me.”
“And that’s a good thing? Should I throw a party?” I asked sarcastically.
“She told me something that I think you should know.”
“And that would be…”
“Jesse didn’t sleep with her,” Andy said quietly.
I froze. “What?”
“Ally admitted that Jesse didn’t sleep with her. I guess he was upset because you two got in a fight, so he got trashed. Ally brought him home and stayed with him. She said she did it in case you came looking for him. She didn’t want you to hurt him anymore. Of course, you did come to his house, and we know what happened after that. I’m so sorry, Emma. I’m so fucking pissed off at Ally right now. I have no idea how she could do that to either of you.”
“He didn’t cheat on me?” I whispered.
“He tried to tell me, and I wouldn’t listen. Oh my god, I destroyed everything.” I was glad that I was already sitting down, or I would have fallen to the couch.
“Anyone in your place would have assumed the same thing.”
I put my head on my knees and started sobbing. I’d destroyed everything.
“Hey, don’t cry. This isn’t your fault,” Andy said as he rubbed my back.
“It is my fault. I should have listened to him. I have to find him!”
I tried to stand up, but Andy held me down.
“How do you plan to do that? He’s thousands of miles away, Emma. The chances of you finding him are slim to none.”
“I have to try. I can’t let him think that I hate him. He has to know that I know the truth. Maybe if he does, he’ll come back.”
“Emma, it’s been months. The chances of him coming back are even less than you finding him. You have to let him go.”
“I can’t. Please tell me that you’ll help me.”
He sighed. “We’ll try. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
Over the next month, we’d tried. Neither of us knew the last name of Trish’s boyfriend, but we knew her last name and Jesse’s. We also knew they were in West Virginia. We’d tried everything that we could think of, starting with social networks. I had gone through pages and pages of Facebook profiles, and I’d ended up with nothing. I’d looked onTwitter next and then MySpace. I’d known it was a long shot, and I had been right. Absolutely nothing had come up.
We’d searched the Web for his mom’s name, but we couldn’t find a thing. It was like neither of them existed online. Andy had checked with the post office and his landlord to see if either had left a forwarding address. Of course, they hadn’t. It was like neither of them had ever existed, period. I’d cried when Andy told me that it was time to let it go. I had known he was right, but I hadn’t wanted to accept the fact that Jesse was really gone.
When it had come time to begin submitting applications for universities, I’d started looking at a few in West Virginia. It was obvious that West Virginia University was the biggest. I knew that Trish’s boyfriend had money and that Trish had expected Jesse to go to college. I was grasping at straws, but it was all I had.
My mom had been pressuring me to pick from one of the colleges she wanted me to go to, but I’d refused to give her an answer. I’d hidden my acceptance letter from my mom, not wanting her to find out that I was leaving until the last minute. I’d never even told her about Jesse, and I hadn’t planned to. I’d started to leave her house when I turned eighteen, but then I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d already felt so alone, and I hadn’t been ready to go home to an empty apartment every day. My mom might not have been home much, but our staff had been. I’d been around most of them my entire life, and they were the closest thing I had to a family.
My dad had known about my relationship with Jesse, and I’d finally broken down and told him what had happened between us right before I graduated. He’d thought I was nuts to leave everything I knew in hopes of finding Jesse, but my dad had tried to understand. He’d helped me get everything ready without my mom knowing a thing.
When I’d finally told my mom where I was going, she’d flipped out on me. She’d screamed that she would cut me off and take my car. I’d calmly handed her my keys, and I’d told her that I was leaving, and she couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
When she’d called my dad, he’d explained that he would take care of me financially, so she’d kicked me out. It hadn’t seemed to bother her that I was her only daughter, and I hadn’t been surprised by her reaction. She had never cared for me like a mom should, so why should she start now?
My dad had arranged for someone to pick me up, and I’d spent the rest of the summer in his apartment in L.A. Andy had become one of my best friends by this point, so he’d spent most of his summer at my house when he wasn’t working.
He’d refused to let me go all the way to West Virginia on my own, so we’d looked at apartments close to campus where he could stay. He’d claimed that he had nothing to stick around for in California, but I wasn’t so sure. He couldn’t afford the plane ticket to go with me, so I’d used that knowledge to blackmail him into letting me pay for his rent for the first few months until he could find a job. He hadn’t been happy about it, but he’d finally agreed. He hadn’t had any other options.
Ally had disappeared the day after she graduated. She hadn’t been around much anyway, but Andy was worried. He would get a text message here and there from her, but that was it. It was enough to let him know she was alive, but it wasn’t enough to make him stop worrying. I knew I was being a cruel bitch, but I didn’t care if she dropped off the face of the earth. She’d destroyed my life, and I hadn’t been able to do a thing about it. I had wanted to go after her when Andy told me what she had done, but he wouldn’t let me. I knew that she would kick my ass in a fight, but I hadn’t cared. As long as I could make her hurt a little bit, I would be happy.
I’d fought with Andy over it, but he’d finally convinced me not to hunt her down. I’d understood where he was coming from, but it hadn’t made me feel any better. She was his sister, but she’d hurt me. I just wanted to make her hurt, too.
“I think that’s our exit,” Andy said, pulling me from my memories.
I glanced up to see that he was right. I was nervous as I followed the signs pointing me to the university campus. The roads were clogged with students moving in for the school year, so it took a while to get through.
After what seemed like years, we finally arrived. This was it. I was finally here. I pulled into a parking lot directly across the road from a large brick building with my dorm name displayed on the front of it. Tons of students and their parents were unloading cars in the parking lot and along the street.
I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched a mom and dad hug their daughter a few cars in front of mine. I wondered what that would feel like—to have a dad around and a mother who actually cared. I tried to ignore my hurt feelings, but they wouldn’t leave. Kids were supposed to have their parents around to take care of them. Instead, I’d snagged a dad who cared from thousands of miles away and a mom who didn’t give a damn about me.
“Come on, let’s get you checked in,” Andy said before stepping out of my car.
My dad had known that my mom had taken away the car she’d bought for me, so he’d had a brand new SUV waiting for me at the Pittsburgh airport. I knew it made me a spoiled brat to accept it, but I didn’t care. I needed a car, and my dad had helped me out. I honestly thought the only reason he was helping me with all of this was because he felt guilty for leaving me alone with my mom for so long.
Andy kept his arm around my shoulders as we walked to the dorm. He’d become protective of me after Jesse left, and I was secretly glad. It was nice to have someone there for me just because he wanted to be. In this world, there were too few genuinely kind people to let one disappear from my life.
A line of students was waiting to be checked in when we walked into the lobby. I tapped my foot impatiently as the line slowly moved. I hated to wait.
When it was finally my turn, I gave the girl behind the counter my name and showed her my I.D. Once everything was checked off, she gave me a map of the campus and my key. I was instructed to go up to the third floor and turn left. She eyed Andy warily as she informed me that this was not a coed dorm, and no men were allowed after nine at night. I rolled my eyes, but I said nothing before we turned and walked away. I noticed several girls eyeing Andy, like they wouldn’t mind having him in their dorm room after hours. He smiled back at a few of them, but he didn’t stop to talk.
“If you want to flirt, go ahead. You need to remove your arm from my shoulders though before someone thinks you’re my boyfriend. I don’t want people to assume I’m the idiot girlfriend who stands around while her boyfriend eye-fucks the girls around them.”
He laughed. “You worry too much. I won’t eye-fuck anyone.”
“You can eye-fuck all you want. Just don’t act like my brother or boyfriend while you do it.”
“Maybe I want to pretend I’m your boyfriend.” He bent down and gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek.
“You’re an ass,” I growled as I wiped his kiss away.
He finally dropped his arm from around my shoulders once we made it to the third floor. I wasn’t sure if it was because he really was looking for someone to hook up with or because we had to walk single file down the hallway since girls were everywhere, trying to carry boxes. Either way, I was glad.
Once Andy and I had started hanging out a lot back in California, we’d had to fight off the rumors within his circle of friends. Everyone had assumed that we were a couple since we were together all the time, but we’d finally managed to convince them that it wasn’t true. Andy and I’d talked about whether or not there was anything between us, and we’d both agreed that there wasn’t.
We were nothing more than friends, and I was relieved. I wasn’t over Jesse, and I wasn’t sure that I ever would be. Andy kept up with his man-whore ways, and I moped by myself, wishing daily that Jesse would come back.
“Hey, I think this is your room,” Andy said from behind me.
I turned back to see that he was right. I’d been so preoccupied that I hadn’t even realized that I’d passed right by my room. I unlocked my door and threw it open. It was ten times smaller than the room I’d had at my mom’s house, but I loved it anyway. My dad had called the school and arranged for me to have a private room since I was his daughter, so I knew my room was smaller than most since it only slept one.
A small closet was only a few feet away from the main door. A desk was against the far wall, next to the one and only window. I could see from here that the window’s view was of the parking lot out front. A twin-sized bed sat on the opposite side of the room, and another door was in front of the bed. I walked over and opened it to see that I had my own bathroom. It was small, but it was more than I’d expected. Now, I wouldn’t have to fight with every other girl on the floor to shower daily.
“What do you think?” Andy asked as he sat down on my bed.
“I love it,” I said as I smiled.
“Really? It’s kind of tiny. I’ve seen your room at your dad’s house, and this is the size of your closet there.”
“I don’t care. It’s mine, and my mother has no say here. I love it.”
“You’re so weird,” Andy said as he spotted a stack of boxes beside the desk. “At least your stuff made it here safe and sound.”
“Yeah, it would have sucked if they had lost my crap.”
“You want to get unpacked before you take me to my place?”
“Nah, I can do that later. I need to make a quick stop before we go to your place though.”
He eyed me suspiciously, but I ignored him. He was going to kill me when he realized what I’d done.
I locked up and led the way back downstairs. I had to hug the wall more than once as girls passed by me with their arms full of boxes. Once we made it outside, I walked to my car and unlocked it. I double-checked my directions as I waited for Andy to get into the car.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Don’t use that tone with me. You’ll see soon enough.”
I drove through the congested traffic as I searched for the street signs I needed. Once we were off the main drag, the traffic thinned, and it was easier to watch for my destination. I spotted it and quickly pulled into the driveway of a two-story brick house.
“What are we doing here?” Andy asked.
“I have to pick up something.”
“What?” He spotted a car in the yard with a For Sale sign on it. “Emma, you didn’t.”
“Shut up.” I stepped out and started walking toward the house just as the front door opened.
“Can I help you?” an older lady asked.
“Hi, I’m Emma. We spoke on the phone about the car you had for sale online.”
“Of course. Let me grab the keys, and I’ll be right out.”
I walked across the yard to where the car was sitting. It wasn’t the nicest thing out there, but as long as it ran, I’d take it. I knew asking my dad for money to get Andy a car would be too much, so I’d saved some of my monthly allowance from my dad until I had enough to get him something decent. He only planned to stick around for a few months, but he still needed something to drive while he was here.
“I’m going to kill you,” Andy whispered in my ear.
I jumped, not realizing that he’d followed me. “You need something to drive.”
“I’ll take the bus.”
“You’ll take your car,” I countered.
“Here are the keys if you want to start it up,” the elderly woman said from behind Andy.
I turned and took them from her hand before walking over to the car. After unlocking the door, I started the car, and I was relieved when it took right off.
“Can we take it for a drive?” I asked.
The lady seemed unsure. “If you do, I’d like to go with you. It’s nothing personal. I just don’t want it to disappear.”
“Of course!” I said.
I got out and then sat in the backseat. Andy and the lady sat down in the front. I knew nothing about cars, so I figured it would be better if Andy did the test-drive. Andy put it in drive and pulled onto the street. We circled the block a few times before he parked it back in her yard.
“It seems to be in good shape. How much are you asking?” he asked.
“I wanted three for it. It was my husband’s car, and he recently passed away. I hate to sell it, but I need the money.”
“We’ll take it,” I said before Andy could say anything. I pulled my wallet from my purse, counted out thirty-five hundred dollars, and handed the cash to the lady.
She looked confused when she finished counting it herself. “Sweetie, you overpaid me. I only wanted three.”
“And I think it’s worth thirty-five,” I said calmly.
Her eyes filled with tears, and she hugged me. “Thank you. You have no idea how much this helps me. I’ve barely been able to afford food since my husband died.”
“You’re welcome,” I said as I hugged her back.
It was so unfair how some people struggled day after day while others rolled around in millions of dollars. I knew it wasn’t my money to give, but I didn’t care. My dad wouldn’t miss a few thousand, and this lady needed it more than we did.
We finished up with the paperwork, and the lady walked back inside her house.
“That was nice of you,” Andy said.
“She needed it, and I wanted to help her,” I said as I walked to my car.
“You’re a good person, Emma. I hope you know that.”
I didn’t answer as I got into my car before heading in the direction of Andy’s apartment. After what I’d done to Jesse, I didn’t feel like a good person.