Love Me(The Keatyn Chronicles #4)

By: Jillian Dodd

Friday, October 21st

I need some cake.

10:30am



Most of the classes today have very few people in them. Most of us are working, getting everything set up for the PSW/Greek weekend.

I find Peyton in the café overseeing its transformation. There are huge black canvases draped on the walls. Art students are using projectors to beam classic sculptures onto the wall and are tracing them with white chalk. Others are drawing thick Greek columns and filling the fake windows with views of a bright blue ocean.

“Hey,” she says. “It’s looking great, don’t you think?”

“It really is. I just stopped by to check it out. Brad gave me a list of stuff to do. I have to go make sure the audio equipment is all ready for the movie tonight and that the gym is set up.”

“I heard that you’re hanging out with Dawson tonight and my brother tomorrow night.”

“That’s the plan, yes.”

“Do you think dating them both is a good idea? I mean, usually when you date more than one guy, you make sure they run in different circles, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

She leans in and whispers, “So, I was flirting with hottie Cooper this morning.”

“Peyton, don’t do that.”

“Why not? There’s no one here I want to date.”

“What about Brad?”

“Hmm, let’s see. Pretty little boy Brad versus a manly tattooed hottie. Um, no. Besides, I’m pretty sure that he was flirting back. Whitney wants him too. But I’m not going to let her win.”

“Peyton, look, this thing you have going on with Whitney. I know what you’re trying to do. And, I swear, it’s going to backfire on you.”

“No way. I’m not afraid of her anymore. You were right. It’s silly of me to let her hold that over my head. I was a minor. What good would it do if it came out now? Sure, it’d be embarrassing, but pretty soon I’ll be at college far away from here. And her. By the way, I saw what Dawson did in front of your dorm.”

“What do you mean?”

She grins. “Looks like you have two boys trying to woo you.”



I decide to stop by my dorm to see what she’s talking about before I make my way down to the gym.

Maggie is outside, writing all over the sidewalk with chalk.

“Doesn’t it look amazing?”

“It’s really pretty,” I tell her, looking at all the messages the girls in our dorm have written to welcome the prospective students. “How was the library with Jake? I asked him about it and he wouldn’t tell me. He always tells me.”

She grins, full on. “It was good. Very much a friend thing. I’m pretty sure we are in the same boat.”

“The friend boat?”

“Yeah. You still in that with Aiden?”

“I’m not sure anymore. Last night he told me we were going to be together for a long time. Does that seem weird to you?”

“Not if you feel the same way. But, wait, I thought you went to the game with Dawson?”

“I did. And I was bad. Again. We decided we weren’t going to anymore, but we did.”

“You have no willpower.”

“You’re right. Dawson is like me satisfying my sweet tooth. When I’m having something sweet, I love it, but then when I’m done, I feel guilty.”

“Because of the calories?”

I laugh. “Yes. Dawson is a five layer chocolate cake with ganache filling. Impossible to resist, but leaves you feeling a little guilty after.”

“He stopped by here earlier. Did you see it?”

“Peyton said something about it.”

Maggie grabs my arm and pulls me toward the dorm. There on the first step, near where he always sits and waits for me, is a huge pink heart. It says: Dawson + Keatie.

“Oh, that’s so sweet!”

Dawson grabs me around my waist. “I’m glad you think it’s sweet. I have something else sweet for you in my dorm. Come on.”

As we walk next door, I say, “Did you see your brother’s neck? He has new hickeys over the old ones.”

“Did you see my brother’s stomach?”

“We’ve never done that, you know. Given each other hickeys.”

“You’ve given me a couple little ones before,” he says, pulling me into his bedroom and sucking hard on my neck. “Want me to give you one?”

“Not really,” I laugh. “You know, we kind of missed out on all that. The kissing for hours, the hickeys, and all that.”

“Is that what you want? For me to write Dawes across your stomach?” He immediately puts his lips on my stomach, which is exposed in my game day dance uniform. “Maybe I’ll just put my football number on you. Mark my territory.”

“Uh . . .”

“I’m just playing. Tell you what. Let’s just make out.”

I smile at him. “That sounds like fun.”

We kiss for a few minutes.

But when he pulls me on top of him, our kissing gets deeper, and both our hips start that little movement toward each other.

“Keatie, you gotta stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Every time you kiss me, you move your hips into me, and you keep making those sexy little noises. I don’t know how much more I can take.”

“That’s cuz you keep pushing my butt into your leg and moving it against me.”

I roll off him and wrap both my arms up around my head. He puts his hand across my exposed stomach and then down inside my dance pants.

I moan, then sigh and try to shake this desire. “What happened to just kissing?”

He runs his hand further down, pulling my pants down in the process. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” he says huskily, as I use his feet to kick my pants the rest of the way off.

He pulls off my thong while I try to undo his belt. I finally get it undone, unzip his shorts, and pull down the front of his boxers. He holds my hands down above my head with one hand, while he slides off his shorts and boxers.

Then he grins at me and says, “We’re just gonna kiss.”

I wrap my legs around his waist in agreement. “Yeah, we’ll just kiss.”

Dawson may not touch my soul, but the parts he does touch, he makes feel really good.



After we get dressed, Dawson says, “I’m starved. Let’s go get lunch.”

We’re now sitting at the lunch table, probably looking way too happy.

Bryce says to me, “So, what’s going on with you two? I saw the It’s complicated thing, but then I heard you had a date with Aiden.”

“We’re allowed to date other people,” Dawson answers.

“So, you’re still hooking up?”

Dawson laughs and says, “Um, we decided we’re just gonna kiss.”

My phone makes a little email ding, telling me I have a message from Grandma.



Grandpa says you want to know the difference between love and true love. Joan Crawford said this, “Love is a fire, but whether it’s going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell.”



Dawson and I are the only ones left at the lunch table, so I ask him, “Do you believe in true love?”

“Uh, I think so, why?”

“Do you think you just know?”

“Like love at first sight? Romantic fairy tale stuff? I though what we just did in my room was pretty damn romantic.”

“Our just kissing was romantic?”

“Hell, yeah.”

I tilt my head and look at him, like Seriously?

“Okay, so it probably wasn’t romantic. It was hot. Sexy. That’s what all this is about, huh? The romance? We have the sex, but not the romance? Wasn’t last night romantic?”

“Dinner was romantic.”

“So early dinner and then tonight after the game you’re mine, right?”

“I think I already was yours.”

He laughs. “Naw, we just kissed.”



Just kiss.

1pm



After lunch, I do all the stuff Brad asked me to, then go to the small auditorium where all the student guides are meeting to get instructions about what we’re expected to do with the visiting students. Aiden sits down next to me as I’m studying the photos of the two girls who are going to be Katie’s and my roommates.

“So, tonight, we’re doing dinner before the game, right? I have something special planned.”

“Oh, um, I didn’t know that you planned something. I was trying to be fair, so I told Dawson I would hang out with him tonight. Then tomorrow, all day—well, except for the party after curfew—I’m yours. Like, if you want.”

“Bryce told me you and Dawson decided you’re just gonna kiss for now.”

I blush and look down, hoping he didn’t notice.

“Well, we’re going to try.”

He narrows his eyes at me. “I don’t like this.”

“Don’t like what?”

“You dating him one night and me the next. It sucks.”

“But you’re the one who told me to date you both.”

“Yeah, I know,” he says with a sigh as he runs his hand through his hair. “So, are you okay with that?”

“Okay with what?”

“With me dating you one night and someone else the next?”

“You can do whatever you want.”

He sweetly puts his forehead against mine. “I haven’t dated anyone else this year. Don’t know why I’d start now.”

I bite the edge of my lip, trying to suppress a smile.

He lets out a loud laugh. “You love getting your way, don’t you?”

My little smile breaks into a full-on grin. I can't help it.

He squints his eyes at me. “You like that I’m a little jealous.”

“Kinda.”

“You are a bad liar.”

“Fine, I like that you're maybe a little jealous. I don't know how you feel.”

“Boots, love isn't like a cute pair of shoes. You can't try it on to see if it fits and walk out the door wearing it.”

“I know that.”

“You told me sometimes true love takes a bit. Do you believe that?”

I scrunch up my face and think about it. “I guess I always thought true love would be instant. An instant pull—like gravity—and you would both just know.”

“But sometimes the girl is used to getting things instantly. And probably the guy is too. And maybe they need to slow down.”

“But I could get hit by a car or kidnapped by a psycho tomorrow and never know.”

“You don’t have to have sex to know. Sex isn't love.”

“Maybe not. But it’s a big, important part of it.”

“Just because you have sex doesn't mean you're in love.”

“I just want to be with a guy who likes me. Who won’t hurt me.”

“Says the girl who’s with a guy that has already hurt her, more than once.”

This comment immediately pisses me off.

I turn my back on him. “I gotta go, Aiden. See ya later.”

He grabs my shoulder. “You’re mad at me right now because you know I’m right.”

I set my face in a passive, disaffected look. “I’m not mad at you. I just have to go greet the prospective students.”

“Yeah, me too.”



Now I’m standing in a reception line, greeting prospective students as they arrive, with Aiden standing next to me.

Electricity is radiating from his stupid body.

Young girls are getting just as tongue-tied around him as I do. They come over in little groups, supposedly to say hi to Ariela, Maggie, and me, but by the way they are giggling, it’s obvious who they want to see.

The shirtless goalie from the video.

“Are you two going out?” an adorable blonde girl named Pressley asks Aiden, looking from me to him and blushing. Then she goes, “Uh, I mean, like, I, uh, saw you studying together in the library in the, uh, video. I can’t wait to take French. It’s such a romantic language.”

I look at Aiden, wondering how he’s going to reply. This is his chance to tell someone else what I want to hear. That he’s secretly in love with me. How we met. How it was instant. How if she comes here, it might happen to her. Her perfect fate.

“We have French class together,” he says with a radiant smile toward the girl, which causes her to turn a deeper shade of red. “She’s my tutor.”

“Oh,” she manages to reply. I can tell her dreams were just crushed along with mine. She wants to hear the fairy tale. She wants to know if she comes here, she’ll meet an amazing boy.

I decide to give her hope. “I’ve been dating a really hot senior.”

Aiden starts to say something, but he’s interrupted by a loud voice.

“Daddy’s home!” Braxton bounds up to me, wraps his arm around my neck, and gives me a big kiss on cheek. “Did you miss me?”

I grin and kiss his cheek back. “Of course I did!” I turn toward Aiden and the girl, who is still standing there. “Pressley, this is Braxton. He’s for sure attending Eastbrooke next fall.”

Braxton gives her a subtle once over and appears to approve. He removes his arm from my neck and wraps it around hers. “Pressley, that’s a really pretty name,” he says. “Stick with me, baby. I’ve got this place wired.” He starts to lead her toward the small auditorium for their informational meeting, when I see Embry, the dark-haired girl he’s been crushing on from his school, arrive.

“Hey, Brax, wait,” I say.

I walk up to Embry. Unlike most of the girls who have arrived in packs, she is standing confidently by herself. I can see why she dates older guys. She doesn’t look like an eighth grader. Long hair, slim, tight body, gorgeous eyes, and great teeth in a pretty smile.

“Hey, I’m Keatyn,” I tell her, introducing myself. “Are you here alone?”

“Yeah,” she says a little self-consciously. “None of my friends want to go to boarding school, but I think it looks really fun. I loved the video.”

“Thanks. We’ll get to talk a bunch later. You’re rooming with me and my friend, Katie, but now you have to get into the info meeting.” I lead her toward Braxton. “Do you know Braxton? I read that you go to the same school. And this is Pressley. She’ll be rooming with us too.”

Braxton looks a little shocked. Probably because his arm is still wrapped around the pretty blonde, Pressley. “Hey, Embry!” he says. “We were just headed in. Wanna join?”

She smiles and seems relieved to see a familiar face. “Yeah, Braxton, that would be great.”

Braxton doesn’t miss a beat. He wraps his free arm around Embry and says, “We’re going to have some fun here, ladies.” Then he turns back and winks at me. “Keatyn, don’t be jealous. You’re still my favorite girl.”

I look over at Riley, who is shaking his head and laughing at his brother.

Riley and Dallas start discussing who were the hottest young girls.

“They are all, like, fourteen. Way too young for you both.”

Riley goes, “Just checking out the new crop for my little bro.”

But I’m not paying attention.

Because Chelsea, the cheerleader who is always flirting with Aiden, is now running her hand down Aiden’s buff bicep.

I know I shouldn’t listen, but I can’t help it.

I’m straining to hear every single word.

Damn Dallas is talking way too loud. I want to shush him, but I can’t.

“You’re no fun this year. What’s the deal? We had lots of fun last year,” I hear her say.

Aiden doesn’t remove her arm from his, but says, “I’ve just . . . and I’m not . . . we did . . . understand.”

She apparently doesn’t like what she hears, because she lets go of his arm and puts on a pout. “Tonight. We’re having some fun, and I’m not taking no for an answer.” She walks away slowly, shaking her curvy ass.

I catch Aiden staring at it.

He looks at me and sort of shrugs, seemingly saying, I can’t help it all the girls are in love with me. I’m a hottie god. Get used to it.

My phone buzzes with a text.



Braxton: I need a redhead to complete my trio.



How do you say fuck off in French?

5pm



Dawson comes to dinner with me, even though he has to be in the locker room shortly to get ready for the football game tonight. All the prospective students have to sit together, so we get to eat alone.

“Wow, Keatie,” he says, looking at the newly Greek café. “This looks great.”

“Yeah, the art students worked really hard today. I think it turned out pretty cool. Hopefully the rest of the weekend goes well.”

“It will. You helped plan it,” he says, leaning in to give me a sweet kiss.

As we get in line, Dallas walks up to me and holds his closed fist out in front of me. Like he wants me to open my hand so he can put something in it, or he wants me to guess what’s in it.

“What?”

He bugs his eyes out at me, so I hold my palm up to his hand.

“I’m pretty sure these are yours,” he grins, and drops an orange lace thong into my hand.

“Where’d you find these?”

“Ha! I knew they were yours! You wore them when we were in the limo. I recognized the little daisy charm on back. You don’t see that very often.”

“Yeah, where did you find those?” Dawson asks with a big grin. I can tell he is trying to think of where we might have lost them. Most likely the lacrosse field.

“At the Cave,” Dallas replies.

My eyes get big. “Oh,” I say, looking totally guilty. “Uh, thanks.” I quickly shove them into my bag. Then I turn my attention toward the food. Dawson loves food. “Wow, dinner smells great. You sure you aren’t going to have something?”

“No,” he says flatly, while I grab a tray and pile it with food.

I figure maybe if I get enough food, Dawson won’t ask me how my panties got left at the Cave.

And that appears like it won’t be a problem, because Dawson has gotten very quiet. He hasn’t said a word.

I start munching on a gyro. Try to feed him some hummus.

Finally he says, “Are you even gonna attempt to explain why your panties were at the Cave?”

“We’ve always been honest with each other, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’m going to tell you exactly what happened.”

He nods at me to go on.

“Last night after the JV game, I met Aiden at the Cave.”

His eyes get big, and his anger swells.

“Let me finish before you get all pissed, okay? He wanted to show me that thing he did with his hands before he kicked the field goal last night. It had been raining, and I sat on a stump and my underwear and my sweats got all soaked. Aiden had on gym shorts under his sweats, so he took them off and let me wear them.”

“How does a thong get wet when you sit down?”

“I don’t know. I sorta leaned onto the stump and it got wet. I was embarrassed. Aiden turned around and didn’t even try to look when I changed. Then it started pouring, so he wrapped it all up in the sleeping bag he brought to sit on. It must have fallen out.”

He shakes his head like he doesn’t believe me.

“That sounds like bullshit. Let me guess, you just kissed?”

“Yes, we did. Oh, not like that. Like we actually just kissed. And not for very long, because it started pouring.”

“Uh huh, sure. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. How do you say fuck off in French?”

Aiden who apparently has been standing behind us says, “Casse-toi. But she’s telling you the truth.”

“Yeah well, cassy-twa to both of you,” he says. He gets up, slams his chair into the table, and stomps out of the café.

Aiden says, “Hell, if I woulda known that would work, I would’ve stolen some of your panties and hung them in my football locker.”

“It’s really not funny,” I tell him.

“I’ll sit and eat dinner with you.”

Riley wanders over with Ariela on his arm. He looks really happy, for a guy whose neck is varying shades of bruise.

“What happened?” he asks.

Aiden looks like he’s going to say something, but my eyes fill with tears.

“I gotta go,” I tell them.

Tears are blurring my vision as I leave the café. I need to sit down and gather myself, so I go to the nearest spot.

As fate would have it, it’s the bench where Dawson first really kissed me.

I put my head down into my hands and cry.

I don’t know what I’m going to do.



I feel the bench shift slightly.

Dawson puts his arm around me, pulls me into his chest, and whispers, “I’m sorry. I believe you. This is all my fault. If I would’ve told Whitney no, we wouldn’t even be in this mess, would we? You wouldn’t be dating Aiden. We’d still be going out, right?”

“That’s right,” I sputter out and then start bawling again. I’m bawling about all of it. Brooklyn. Him. Aiden. Him. Vincent. I just want to go home.

Dawson rubs my back gently. “No relationship is perfect, Keatie. What matters is if you still want to be together when things get really hard.”

I half laugh, half cry, “That’s the problem, Dawson. I like it when you get really hard.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

I look up at him. His gorgeous, sweet brown eyes. His beautiful hair.

“Oh, wow. Um, here.” He pulls his polo up off his stomach and uses it to wipe my face. “Let’s go get you cleaned up. Then we’re gonna figure this all out, okay?”

I nod okay.



We go to my room. “Tonight is pretty much over for me, and it’s not even six.” I sigh. “I’m not going to the game.”

“You’re not skipping. You’ll get in trouble with the dance team. Just put some makeup back on. It’ll be fine.”

“I don’t want to go to the movie after the game.”

“You have to go. You’re my date.”

I throw my arms around him and start crying again.

“You can’t go to the game bawling.” He looks perplexed. I’m sure growing up with three brothers, he’s not used to this.

“Okay, let’s talk first, figure this out, get all the crying out.”

“You’re supposed to be in the locker room in ten minutes.”

“I can be a little late. So, you want honesty, right?”

I bite my lip and nod.

“This is honesty. I love you. I’ve told you that. On the other hand, do I think you are my one true love?” He stops, rubs his hands together, and shakes his head. “I honestly don’t know. You helped me. Healed me, really. I feel grateful. But do you remember that first night when we talked at the Cave?”

“Yeah, you told me your goal was to ask Whitney to Homecoming.”

“And you told me that Aiden spoke to you soul. Or kissed your soul.”

I nod, remembering.

“Keatie, I don’t know if we’re soul mates. I don’t even know how you know that. Do you?”

“I don't think I believe in soul mates or true love anymore.”

He pulls me gently onto his lap and snuggles me into his chest.

“Yeah, you do. Under all that sexy is a true romantic.”

“I mean, I want that. Doesn’t everyone? That special someone made just for them.”

“I think everyone hopes for it. But then we get our hearts broken and it makes us cynical. After what happened with Whitney, I felt pretty cynical.”

“Did you think she was the one? Like, did you want to marry her?”

“We used to talk about it sometimes. She always described our future life, but I could never picture it. I thought it was just because I’m a guy, but now I don’t think so. I think it just wasn’t right. What do you think we should do?”

“What do you want to do?”

He shakes his head. “Honestly, I can't wait to graduate and go to college.”

“That makes me sad.”

“I don’t know if we’re soul mates, Keatie, but we’re gonna be friends for a very long time. I wasn’t lying when I said you’ve become my best friend. I’ll give up the sex if I have to, but I don’t want to give up the friendship.”

“Do you want to give up the sex?”

“Hell no. Do you?”

“Well, it complicates things, and I do feel a little guilty about it. Should we feel guilty about it?”

“As long as we’re both single, we have nothing to feel guilty about.”

“I don’t want to let you go.”

“I’m not going anywhere, and there’s no one here I want to date. So, we’ll see how it goes, and I’ll try my best not to be a jealous idiot. It helps knowing you’re not sleeping with him.”

“I told him I wouldn’t sleep with anyone else until I knew for sure I was in love.”

“I’m a life lesson, huh?”

I laugh in a sad way. “Maybe. Dawson, I know I have a prospective student to attend to, but I don’t want to go to the movie. I know we were supposed to have a date. Will you be mad if we don’t go?”

“Hell, no. I hate that movie.” He gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek and glances at the clock. “Shit. I gotta get going.”

“Okay,” I say as he walks out the door.



You got lucky.

6:12pm



I walk down to the field house, my emotions everywhere.

Part of me wants to run away.

To forget this place. Forget these people.

But as I look out over the campus, I realize that I don’t want to leave this place. Or these people. I don’t want to run away from my problems. I want to stay here and figure them out.

And, maybe, hopefully, figure myself out in the process.

I whip open the door to the field house to find Cooper Steele standing in the entry.

“What?”

“We need to talk,” he says as he pulls me in his office and shuts his door. He drops down into the chair behind his desk, rubs the stubble on his head, and says, “This place is crazy. I’m supposed to be guarding you. How am I supposed to watch out for you when I’m constantly busy? And how did I suddenly find myself in charge of an event I didn’t even plan?”

I can’t help but smirk. “Whitney and Peyton are on the Social Committee that planned this weekend. You need to be careful. They both want you.”

“I know they want me. They’ve already got me doing all this stuff.”

“Uh, no. That’s just to get close to you. I mean they want you. Sexually.”

“Sexually? They’re in high school?”

“Yeah, but they’re both legal and in some sort of competition to see who can sleep with you first.”

“This is my job. I’m not going to screw it up by sleeping with some high school girl. They’re both in my Health class too. It’s weird talking about health and human body issues to girls whose pants I would’ve been trying to get into just a few years ago. Now I’m supposed to teach abstinence.”

I laugh. “That’s pretty funny. And I’m sorry if you’re overwhelmed with hot girls trying to hit on you, but have you had a chance to learn the school? Its weaknesses in security? Anything productive?”

“I’ve already discovered the most important weakness.”

“Really, what’s that?”

“You.”

“Me? What do you mean?”

“Garrett wanted me here so that you’d have someone close, but I can’t be with you all the time. If Vincent shows up, you’ve got to be ready.”

“I am ready. I mean, I’ve always gotten away before.”

He looks at me very seriously. “I don’t want to take away your confidence, but I’ve studied your file and listened to your side of the story. You got lucky. Plain and simple. You got especially lucky in Miami. You’ve been in situations where you’ve been able to run. What will you do if you can’t run?”

My hands start to shake and I feel like I’m going to cry. What is he talking about? That’s what Garrett told me to do. To run.

“Um, I’m not sure, but I’m going to be late for dance. If we’re not in the locker room on time, we get in trouble.”

“You’re avoiding the question. Go to dance. Think about it. We’ll discuss your answer, and my plan, tomorrow.”

As I fly out of his office, I collide with Whitney. “Watch where you’re going,” she says snottily.

“I’m sorry. I have to get to dance.”

“Why were you in Mr. Steele’s office?”

“Uh, he just asked me some questions about tomorrow’s competition.”

She raises one eyebrow at me. “For future reference, that’s my job.”



I’m almost late for dance, but I need a minute to breathe.

I walk outside to get some air just as the entire football team barrels out the door and heads down to the field.

I put my head down, push my back up against the building, and try to blend into the brick wall. Fortunately, no one notices me.

Except for Aiden.

He turns around, holds my eyes with that tractor beam of his, but follows the team to the field.

Once they’re out of sight, I allow myself to close my eyes.

I run through the scenarios. Let my mind go to all those scary what-if places.

What would I do if I couldn’t run? If I couldn’t get away?

I’d have to go with him. Figure out how to get away later. Trick him.

But the truth is, I’m not as smart as him. Or as sick. Whatever.

I’ll be okay. I’ll figure it out. I have a lot I want to do with my life.

Maybe that’s part of loving myself. Knowing what I want to do with my life. Having the courage to go for it no matter what. To have that courage even when someone crazy like Vincent is after me.

I feel a forehead lean against mine. “I’m sorry for what I said about the panties in my locker. It was a bad joke,” Aiden says.

I reach out suddenly, wrap my arms around him, and bury my head in his shoulder. He doesn’t hesitate for even a second. He immediately hugs me tightly back.

“Tell me what happened,” he says softly.

“You’re going to get in trouble.”

“I told Coach I forgot my lucky charm and had to go back and get it.”

“You have a lucky charm?”

“Yeah. You. Tell me.”

“It’s been a week since Dawson and I broke up. I’ve been an emotional mess. Tonight, he just told me something that I knew in my heart but really didn’t want to hear.”

“What was that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Aiden. Um, I know I’m on the Social Committee and I’m supposed to help sell popcorn before the movie, but I’m not going. Turns out Dawson didn’t want to go anyway.”

“You’ve been crying.”

I nod.

“Tell you what. I’ll take care of the popcorn. You go with your friends.”

“What do you mean?”

“Go to the movie with your girlfriends. You’ll have fun. And don’t you have two prospective students spending the night in your room?”

“Yeah.”

“Show them how much you love Eastbrooke.”

I smile at him.

Because he’s one of the biggest reasons I decided not to run away.

He gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek and says, “Everything will be okay. I promise.”

And for some reason, I believe him.



The perfect ending.

2am



Pressley and Embry have finally stopped giggling and are asleep.

Their enthusiasm is contagious and I had a really fun time too. I’m glad Aiden talked me into going. It was fun to sing along with Katie, Maggie, and Peyton. It was fun watching Maggie and Jake flirt. And it was flat-out funny to watch Riley drag his furry rug into the auditorium for him and Ariela to sit on.

I had fun.

But, yet, I didn’t.

I kinda hoped that when Aiden suggested going with my girlfriends it was because he wanted to sit with me.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he spent the night surrounded by cheerleaders. One of whom was Chelsea, the girl who wasn’t taking no for an answer tonight. Maybe that’s why he barely spoke to me and why he hasn’t texted me.

But I have bigger problems than that.

So I get on the internet and look up problem solving.

Hoping it will give me an idea of what to tell Cooper tomorrow.

What I find, though, makes me think of someone else.

The article I’m reading says that you should always try to figure out the root, or cause, of your problem.

I use my phone to light up the picture of Brooklyn then slowly push my covers back, slide my feet into a pair of slippers, carefully step over the girls, shut the door quietly, and go into the stairwell.

I think it’s time to talk to my root.

I pull up his number as a million truths go through my head. Truths that I haven’t wanted to face. Because that would mean taking some of the blame.

I blamed him for everything that went wrong. Got mad because I didn’t think he loved all of me, yet I forced him to do things that weren’t him. And when he got upset about it, I acted like it was his fault. I wanted to change him when I should’ve just loved him. And I did love all of him. I loved the way he made me feel. Our summer of love was the best time of my life. Things were so easy with him. I was so incredibly happy.

It wasn’t until we got to the city and I pushed him out of his comfort zone that we started to fight. That he started to push back. I slide the waistband of my shorts down and stare at my tattoo. I can picture him, walking out of the water, his blue eyes shining as bright as the ocean, an easy smile on his face, his beautiful bronzed skin, his shaggy hair.

He’s always known exactly who he is.

I was the confused one.

He tried to help me. Encouraged me to show the world the girl he loved.

The girl I wanted to be.

I get brave and press his number.

He answers on the fourth ring. “Keats! Hey, how are you?” He sounds like we are old friends. Not people who fought the last time they talked.

“Uh, okay. How are you? You find your balance yet?”

“No. I haven’t. I’ve been wanting to call you.”

“But you haven’t.”

“I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

“I get now why you needed me to forgive you.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, you figured out it was the root of your problem. I just figured out it might be the root of my problem here as well.”

“What’s your problem there?”

“I met a guy.”

“I’m not sure I want to hear about this.”

“I’m not sure I wanted to watch you make out with a girl and then stand outside a cabana while you screwed her either.”

“Look, before we go any further, I need to explain and I owe you an apology.”

“An apology? Really?”

“Yes, Keats. I owe you an apology. I was hurt. You'd been to school for barely a week and you already had a new guy? Did I mean nothing to you? The girl in the cabana was my childish way of getting back at you. Do you still love me, Keats?”

I want to say yes. I want to be swept away by emotion. I want to fly straight to wherever he is and have an amazing reunion    . Write an amazing ending to our love story.

“I owe you an apology too, B. Actually, I owe you a lot of them. I’m sorry I tried to change you. You’ve always known exactly who you are. It’s part of what I love about you. I’m sorry I was so confused about who I wanted to be. I know it’s stupid, but labeling our relationship when we got back from Europe was important to me. Everyone was asking me. The truth is I was proud of you. I wanted to be able to introduce you as my boyfriend. I wanted to tell the world about our amazing summer. I wanted you with me. But then you started saying stuff that made me think you didn’t care.”

“It’s not that I didn’t. It’s that I knew I was leaving. I couldn’t expect you to wait for me, so I was trying to be mature about it all. What I wanted to do was throw you in my backpack and take you with me. If all I had in my life was you, my board, and some waves, I’d always be happy.”

“You didn’t want to come to my birthday party.”

“But I did.”

“And you were a jerk.”

“And you kissed another guy.”

“You kissed a girl in your tent before you noticed me.”

“She kissed me.”

“You didn’t stop her.”

“I didn’t. But I should’ve stopped you from running away. Instead, I just stood there, realizing how stupid I was. How immature. I’m sorry I hurt you, Keats. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt you.”

“I’m sorry too. We both made quite a few mistakes. And I’ve been reacting badly to them.”

“How so?”

“Well, when you left me for camping, I lost my virginity to Cush. When you did the cabana girl, I slept with someone else.”

“You were hurt.”

“Yeah, I was and I’ve been blaming you. But I’m the one responsible for my actions. I should have trusted you. You have to trust the people that you love.”

“I should’ve had more faith in our relationship, too. I thought if I left, we’d fall apart. The thought of that hurt. I’m sorry I pushed you away. And then everything happened so fast. My leaving. Your leaving. Not being able to see each other.”

“I don't know if I'll ever get my life back. I don't know if we'll ever get another chance, or if either one of us would want it if we did. But I know I miss you. You gave me a lot of good advice. You made me look at myself. I sucked. I'm trying to be a better person here. And I'm making friends. I'm more myself than I’ve ever been. But there’s one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m finally able to be me. I’m everything I wanted to be. But I’m still like a fake Prada bag because I’m lying to everyone.”

“Meet me.”

“Meet you?”

“Yeah. Like, anytime. Anywhere. I’ll miss a tournament. Say I'm sick and at my hotel resting. But I'll really fly somewhere and meet you. No one will know. Please. I need to hold you in my arms. I need to feel you again. I need to tell you I'm sorry in person, so you know I mean it. I kiss my tattoo every time I go out to surf. It’s sort of my way of feeling like you’re here with me. Like you should be.”

“Vincent got a tattoo like ours. It’s on his wrist in the exact spot as yours.”

“That’s sick.”

“He rubbed it on mine. Got off on it. It was really disgusting.”

“Don’t let him ruin what it means to us. Don’t.”

“I’m trying not to. What does it mean to us? Or, I mean, what does it mean to you, like, now?”

“I was looking at it tonight, actually, and thinking it symbolizes hope. Hope that fate will bring us back together. But I just decided I changed my mind about fate. Fate sucks ass. I don’t want to wait. So what do you say? About seeing me? Are you free anytime soon?”

“I tried out for the school play and got a part. We have rehearsal every day for the next few weeks until it’s over.”

“Really? You never told me you wanted to act. But you’d be great at it. Remember, I told you that. That’s why I thought you didn’t know who the real you was. Because you could effortlessly play any role. You’ll be a great actress if you want to be.”

“I’d like to be. But I can’t really do it if Vincent is still in the picture. You know, I see you every day on my wall.”

“And I have the picture of us on the beach in Biarritz with me always. The one of us kissing as the sun rises. Every time I get up early and surf, I think of you. Always. I love you, Keats.”

I feel like I should say it back, but I can’t. “Thanks,” I say awkwardly.

“It sounds hollow, I know. That's why we need to see each other again. I miss you, Keats.”

“Do you like the surf tour?”

“Yes. I'm learning a lot about myself. I was a jerk to you in Europe. About your clothes. Don't laugh—actually, go ahead and laugh—I bought nice luggage.”

I do laugh. “Seriously? Why?”

“Because you were right. I get better service that way, and I like it.”

“Maybe there's hope for you yet.”

“I’m glad we talked things out. We’ll talk soon, okay?”

“Deal.”

“And Keats?”

“Yeah?”

“Promise me that when this is over, I’ll get another chance.”

“I promise, B,” I say, mostly because I refuse to give up the dream that I’ll get the perfect ending to my script. With the boy who was originally cast in every one of my love stories.

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