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The Year of Falling in Love, Page 1

Jessica Sorensen




  The Year of Falling in Love

  by Jessica Sorensen

  The Year of Falling in Love Jessica Sorensen

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright (c) 2016 by Jessica Sorensen This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.

  No part of this book can be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without the permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.

  Any trademarks, service marks, product names or names featured are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if we use one of these terms.

  For information: jessicasorensen.com

  Cover Design by Okay Creations Photography: Perrywinkle Photography

  Chapter 1

  Isabella

  It's been only minutes since Lynn told me Bella--my real mom--was a terrible person who's rotting in her grave. Only a few tiny minutes, yet it feels like an eternity, as if I've entered a time portal where time moves at half-speed.

  It gives me too much time to think about my mom being dead, about how angry my dad was that I asked about her, about Lynn and how I shoved her after she told me. I ran out of my house right after without waiting to see her reaction. I was completely hysterical. But thank the damn stars Kai found me, otherwise who knows what I would've done. In the state of mind I was in, I wanted nothing more than to make the pain go away and would've done almost anything to make it stop.

  But by some miraculous miracle--seriously, the guy is some kind of genius distraction wizard--Kai manages to calm me down. He takes me into the den of his house, tells me to sit down on the sofa, and puts on Zombieland. Then he gives me a bowl of popcorn and a box of Milk Duds and lies down on the floor.

  I haven't explained to Kai what happened, at least not all the details, but I can tell he's wondering by the way he keeps staring at me instead of watching the movie. It's a zombie movie. No one is that distracted during a zombie movie unless they're deeply thinking about something. Or they're a total weirdo.

  "I don't know what to do," I mumble through a yawn when the movie credits appear on the television screen. I roll onto my side to look down at Kai. His light blonde hair is flattened on one side and his cheek is red from where his face was pressed against the pillow. "I'm not sure if I can go home or if I can even call it home. After I pushed Lynn..." I shake my head. "I don't even feel bad. What kind of person does that make me?"

  He rotates onto his back and cocks a brow at me. "You pushed Lynn? When?"

  "Right after she told me about my mom." Reality crashes down on me. "I'm in so much shit, Kai. My dad was already super pissed I tried to find out about my real mom. He probably already changed the locks so I can't get into the house."

  Kai nibbles on his bottom lip, contemplating. "Maybe that's a good thing. No more Hannah. No more Lynn. You'd finally be free of them."

  "Yeah, I know." I twist onto my back, sweeping strands of my brown hair out of my tear-stained face. I'm sure I'm rockin' some awesome raccoon eyes right now and probably look like a real hot mess. Thankfully, it's just Kai here with me. After he apologized to me for what happened in seventh grade, and then I found out about how he told everyone that Hannah lied about me being in a mental institution, I know I can trust him. "I know this is going to sound crazy--it sounds crazy even in my own head--but part of me doesn't want to get kicked out."

  When he doesn't respond, I slant to the side to look at him.

  He's gaping at me like I just flew over the cuckoo's nest. "I'm going to chalk up your temporary insanity to the fact that you've been through a ton of shit in the last couple of hours and give you a piece of advice. If you can get out of that house, then do it. You'll be better off on your own than living with your psychotic, abusive family."

  "They don't abuse me. Yeah, they're mean as hell, but they never hit me or anything like that."

  Kai carries my gaze. "Isa, words can sometimes be just as harmful as actions."

  I swallow the lump in my throat as I recollect how many times Hannah and Lynn have insulted me. How my dad ignored it. How crappy I felt, how small, how worthless. Then I think of Kai and how his dad treats him.

  "You should take your own advice," I say with an insinuating look.

  He shrugs indifferently. "I'm working on it."

  I massage my aching chest with my hand, wishing I could get the tightness out. "I wouldn't be on my own if I moved out. I'd move in with my Grandma Stephy."

  "Good. From what you've told me about her, she sounds pretty cool." He sits up and stretches his arms above his head, causing his black T-shirt to ride up just enough that I get a brief glimpse of his abs.

  I try not to gawk like some band groupie ogling a lead singer, but my gaze has other ideas. I blame it on my hormones. When they take over, I lose my self-control.

  "Yeah, she's cool..." Stop staring at him, Isa. You're such a weirdo. "She's actually the grandma I went on that trip with this summer." I finally manage to tear my gaze off Kai's lean muscles and give myself a mental high-five for regaining my self-control. But then I cringe when I find him watching me with curiosity written all over his face.

  He so just busted me.

  I trap my next breath in my lungs, waiting for him to tease me, but strangely, he remains quiet. Maybe he's giving me a get-out-of-jail-free pass because he feels sorry for me. While I'm not a huge fan of pity, I'll take the pass.

  "It'd still suck to move, though," I say. "I'd have to change schools... I know I don't have a ton of friends or anything, but I was just starting to fall into a good rhythm."

  He frowns. "Why would you have to change schools? I thought she lived in Sunnyvale."

  "She does but on the other side of town at the Sunnyvale Bay Community, which is a different school district." I sit up and lower my feet onto the floor. "It's a thirty-minute drive away from our school, so I'd have to transfer."

  He props his elbows on the edge of the sofa only inches away from my legs. "It'll only take thirty minutes if you drive like a grandma."

  "My grandma would have to drive me," I point out. "And I don't want to ask her to do that. And even if I did, I don't think she can. She lets Indigo borrow her car for work and stuff. It'd be way easier on everyone if I just transferred." I sigh, tucking my hands underneath my legs. "I just wish I wasn't so socially incompetent."

  "You're not socially incompetent. You're just shy."

  "Shy, socially incompetent, it still means I have a hard time talkin' to people." I flop back on the sofa. "I wish I could get over it, but I think I'll always be this way."

  "Being shy isn't a bad thing." He reaches out to touch me, but then pulls back. "And we can get you over it."

  "Not everyone can be a beautiful social butterfly like you," I smile for probably the first time since the madness opened up beneath me and tried to swallow me whole. "You're like a unicorn, dude."

  His forehead creases. "A unicorn?"

  I nod, patting his head. "All rare and majestic. Heads turn when you walk into the room because you're so pretty, and everyone wishes they could be as pretty as you."

  He beams at me. "I am pretty amazing."

  Yep. There's no use trying to deny Kai's gorgeous. He knows it. All the girls who go to my high school know it. Unicorn lovers everywhere know it.

  His grin broadens as he pushes to his feet and plops down on the cushion beside me. "I have an idea."

  I dramatically roll my eyes.
"Oh no, here we go."

  He presses his hand to his chest, pretending to be offended. "Hey, not all of my ideas are bad."

  I snort a laugh. "Remember that one time you thought it'd be super awesome if I sat on your lap in that rusty swing set because there was only one seat and you wanted me to swing with you?" It was back in seventh grade during our fleeting friendship. When I think back to that time, I did a lot of risky things thanks to Kai. For some reason, I had a hard time saying no to him even when his ideas screamed Danger! Danger! You just might die!

  He pulls a guilty face. "Yeah, that might not have been my best idea."

  "Might not have been." I gape at him. "The damn thing broke when we were in mid-air. I almost broke my arm and crushed your manly parts."

  He winces, his hand drifting to his lap. "Yeah, I remember that part too clearly." He considers something before twisting to face me. "What if I promise this idea won't bring you any physical harm. That the only thing you'll be in danger of is getting too attached to your sexy next-door neighbor."

  "What does Oliver have to do with this?" I hold back a grin as I refer to one of my other next-door neighbors.

  Kai narrows his eyes at me then gently tugs on a strand of my long, brown hair. "Let's get something straight. The only sexy next-door neighbor you have is me. Got it?"

  The thought of Kyler Meyers, Kai's older brother, who I've had a crush on forever, pops into my head. I was supposed to be on a date with him tonight--our very first date to be exact--but had to cancel because I couldn't quit sobbing. I didn't tell Kyler that, though. I just told him something came up. He was really sweet about it and asked me out next weekend. Of course, I said yes. I just hope I feel better by then.

  Not wanting to get into that with Kai, since Kyler is a touchy subject for him, I heave a dramatic sigh. "Fine, my one and only sexy next-door neighbor, what's your awesome idea?"

  His eyes light up. "I was thinking, if you went to live with your grandma, I could give you a ride to and from school."

  My heart melts like warm chocolate. That might be the sweetest thing a guy has ever done for me. Well, except for when he stopped the whole straightjacket rumor Hannah tried to spread about me. That one is pretty high up there. "You'd do that for me?"

  "Of course. That's what friends do for each other, right?"

  The way he says friends, as if the word is amusing, turns me into an overanalyzing, read-between-the-lines-way-too-much girl. Why did it sound like he finds it funny that we're friends? Or maybe I'm just over-thinking it. Why do I care?

  Hormones, dude, hormones. Get a grip over yourself.

  "While I appreciate the offer, I'm not sure I feel comfortable with you doing that," I tell him, even though I don't want to turn down his offer. "I mean, you'd have to get up like an hour earlier than you normally do."

  "An hour isn't that big of a deal," he insists, picking up the remote and shutting off the television.

  "You're not a morning person, Kai. You told me the other day that you hate waking up any earlier than noon. That you turn into a cranky monster."

  "I didn't say cranky monster. I said asshole. And that's only on weekends. I get up at like seven-thirty on weekdays."

  "Only when you go to school on time. You're usually late."

  "Well, I guess I'll have to start being on time." He gives a casual shrug, pretending it's not a big deal, even though it is.

  At least, it is for me.

  "You really don't have to do this," I say. The last thing I want to do is force him to drive all the way across Sunnyvale to pick my sorry butt up and get himself on a schedule when he's clearly an I'll-do-what-I-want-whenever-I-want-to kind of guy. "It might be good for me to start a new school, anyway. It'll force me to make friends without your ever-so-awesome unicorn guidance." I press my palms together and bow to him.

  He chuckles, shaking his head. "It's really not a big deal." He gives my knee a squeeze. "So just accept my offer."

  My knee jolts from his touch and I hastily clear my throat, unsure how to respond.

  While he keeps referring to us as friends, I'm not so sure our relationship is that simple. Yeah, Kai and I are friends, but we've drunkenly kissed once and almost kissed another time. While the kiss was brief, I swear to God fireworks and explosions burst through me. I felt like I'd stepped into one of those sappy rom-coms or something. According to Kai, though, he kisses everyone when he's drunk. But then he almost kissed me in our old hideout, a hollowed out tree trunk. And that was while he was completely sober. He hasn't tried to make up an excuse for that one. We're just pretending it never happen.

  "So, what do you say? Will you please let me be your chauffeur?" he asks, drawing me back to reality.

  His fingers are still on my knee, tracing delicate circles across my skin, his fingertips moving higher on my thigh toward the bottom of my skirt. I'm not even sure he knows he's doing it. I should probably wiggle my leg before he unknowingly feels me up, but I can't seem to move or breathe. Do anything really, except idiotically gape at his fingers.

  Noting where I'm staring, his gaze drops to his hand. He stares for a second or two before swiftly withdrawing and coughing into his hand.

  "Sorry, I..."

  Awkward silence stretches between us.

  Um... Can you say awkward?

  Which is kind of weird since usually Kai just owns whatever he does.

  My skin is on fire, and I clear my throat. "No worries."

  "Besides, starting a new school your senior year would suck balls," he continues as if nothing happened. "Everyone will already have their own thing going on. It'd be better if you just finished here and then just started over in college."

  "Are you sure you want to make that kind of commitment, though?"

  "I never commit to anything aloud until I'm one hundred percent sure I'm down with it."

  "Okay. I accept your offer to be my chauffeur." An ounce of weight lifts from my shoulders. Now if I could just get rid of the rest, life would be all cookies and vanilla sprinkle frosting. "But you know what that means, right? I get to boss you around."

  His eyes narrow to slits, but it's a playful move. "I take back the chauffeur thing. How about just a friend helping another friend."

  Oh, for the love of all zombies, why does he keep saying friend like that? Every time he does, it makes me think of our kiss and almost kiss, something friends don't do.

  "Why are you blushing, Isa?" Humor dances in his eyes.

  "I'm not." I duck my head, reaching for the stack of DVDs on the floor, and hiding my blush. "Can we watch one more movie before I deal with this moving out thing? I need to think about what I'm going to say to everyone."

  His gaze practically burns a hole in the side of my head. "If that's what you want."

  I nod, scoop up the DVDs, and straighten. "I'm avoiding going back to my house. I'm kind of scared."

  "I don't blame you." He does that whole intense, smoldering, I'm-trying-to-burn-a-hole-into-your-head-so-I-can-read-your-thoughts look on me just long enough to make me squirmy. It's a breath of fresh air when he finally looks away, snatching the DVDs from my hand. "Which one are we watching?"

  "I'll let you pick since you let me pick the last one."

  He sorts through the DVDs and ends up selecting 28 Days Later.

  "You really want to watch another zombie movie?" I ask as he gets up to put the DVD into the player.

  He feeds the disc in. "Sure. Zombies are cool."

  My chest constricts again, but in a different, more welcoming way. "Kai..."

  "Yeah?" He fiddles with the buttons on the DVD player.

  My heart pitter-patters. "Thanks for taking care of me today."

  "It's no big deal." He shrugs, but I swear to God I hear a smile through his voice. He presses play then returns to the sofa. "I mean, yeah, it's kind of a pain in the ass taking care of your sugar and zombie addiction." He sits down beside me and playfully bumps his shoulder against mine. "For a minute there, things got intense. I w
as worried you were going to turn into a Gremlin and bite my hand off if I didn't let you dump the Milk Duds into the popcorn, but I think I deflated the situation pretty well."

  "They taste better together," I protest. "The heat makes them all melty, gooey, good."

  "Melty, huh?" He drapes his arm across the back of the sofa and rests his hand behind me. "That sounds like a word that belongs in the Awesome Isabella Dictionary."

  Smiling, I reach for the popcorn bowl on the end table beside me. I place it on my lap and stuff a handful into my mouth as the movie starts.

  But around five minutes in, my mind is elsewhere, which is a first for me while watching a zombie movie. But I let my temporary insanity slide since I have a lot on my mind.

  I want to believe my mom isn't dead, that what Lynn told me was her sick, twisted way of messing with me. But even if my real mom isn't dead, I worry about why everyone thinks she's this horrible person. What could she have possibly done to make them think that? What happened fourteen years ago when I left the life I was raised in and came to live with my dad, the Evil Witch of the Anders home, and her Wicked Wench sidekick daughter?

  Abruptly, Kai stiffens beside me. I think he's freaking out over the gory scene on the screen until I note he's staring at the corner of the room. The only thing there is a miniature gnome, so unless Kai's suddenly developed a fear of beady-eyed little creatures, I'm guessing he's stressing over something else.

  "Everything okay?" I ask him.

  He blinks at me. "Huh?"

  "You were dazing off." I try to read his vibe, but Kai can be so mysterious sometimes. "We can change this if you're bored." I start to get up, but he clasps a hand on my leg, forcing me to stay put.

  "Relax. I said I was cool with watching the movie and I meant it." He only releases me from his grip when I chillax. "Now watch the movie."

  I do what he says, but ten minutes later, he's zoning off into empty space again, looking extremely bothered. Kai's in some kind of trouble with a guy who goes by the name T and I wonder if he's concerned over that. He won't talk about it, though. Trust me, I've tried.

  I can't help thinking of a few hours ago when he hugged me in front of his house and winced, like I was hurting him. When I asked him about it, he cracked a joke about my tiny arms giving him booboos. Could T have hurt him?