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Rules of a Rebel and a Shy Girl, Page 4

Jessica Sorensen

  “Fine, but this princess needs to get home,” I tell him through a yawn. “She’s really sleepy.”

  “All right, my lady. Your chariot awaits.” He bows, and a laugh bubbles from my lips, a sound I didn’t expect to hear on such a cruddy night.

  He smiles proudly, and I start to question if getting me to laugh was his intention all along. He really is the best friend ever. I’ll never be able to thank him enough. Still, I want to try so maybe I won’t crumble when he finds the love of his life.

  I wrap my arms around him and embrace him with gratitude. “Thank you. I really do appreciate everything you do for me, even if it doesn’t always seem like I do.” I breathe in his scent. Calm. I feel so calm.

  He hugs me back, slipping an arm around me then pressing our bodies closer. “You know I’ll always be here for you, Wills. Even when we’re seventy years old and can barely walk, I’ll use my cane to keep the bad guys away.”

  I smile, but sadness weighs on my heart. He may mean that now, but one day, he’ll have other people he’ll want to care for more than me. Or worse, one day, he’ll find out how big of a liar I am and decide I’m not worth saving anymore.

  Chapter Three


  Willow. Willow. Willow. She’s the most amazing, brave, strong, beautiful girl I know, even if she doesn’t think so. She also gets herself into some of the most unnerving situations. Then again, most of the time, it isn’t her fault.

  She’s had a difficult life, starting from when her dad walked out when she was six. I met her not too long after that happened. She was so quiet, sad, and broken back then. Sometimes, she still looks that way, her big eyes so crammed with pain, sadness, and the stress of a difficult life. All I want to do is hug her, which I try to do as much as she’ll let me.

  But the touching thing is becoming a real problem lately. For me, anyway.

  Somewhere along the road of friendship, I started seeing her as more than a friend. Way, way more.

  After we get into my car, I drive toward her house, taking subtle breaths to try to calm the fuck down. I’m normally a fairly calm guy and prefer talking things out instead of throwing punches. But when I heard that guy trying to coax Willow into opening the door, uncontrollable anger blazed through me. Then I pulled up and saw him running to his car, and I lost any ounce of calm I had left. If Willow hadn’t stopped me, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Probably rammed my fist into his face until my knuckles broke. I should feel rattled by that, but thinking about what that guy probably wanted to do to her …

  I open and flex my fingers, sucking in an unsteady exhale.

  “Are you okay?” Willow fixes her big eyes on my hands. “Why’re your hands shaking?”

  “They’re just having a spasm,” I lie, tightening my grip on the steering wheel. “Too much typing up assignments, I think.”

  She gives me a dubious look. “Since when do you even do assignments?”

  I press my hand to my heart, mocking offense. “Are you saying I’m a slacker?”

  “No … but you did get away with only taking tests during our senior year.”

  “Hey, it’s not my fault the tests were so damn easy. And if I can ace them without doing the homework, then why do the homework?”

  She shrugs. “I don’t know … I guess I can kind of see your point. Although, I could never get away with doing that.”

  I reach over and lightly tug on a strand of her hair. “Of course you could. You’re the smartest person I know.” I offer her a lopsided smile. “You’re just an overachiever.”

  Her face scrunches. “Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t, though.”

  “Since when?” I search her sad eyes, wondering what’s bothering her tonight.

  “I don’t know … since forever, I guess.” She shrugs, picking at her fingernails. “I just think life would be way easier if I wasn’t always trying so hard and just didn’t care.”

  “It’s not,” I tell her. “Trust me, I know.”

  She gives me the look, the one that means she’s about to defend my slacker actions and stroke my ego. “You’re not a slacker. You just don’t like wasting time by doing stuff you don’t like. But you work so hard and always do what you love.” She sighs, resting her head against the window, dazing off into her own little world. “I wish I could spend my life having more fun and being less stressed out.”

  “You could.” I reach out and place my hand over hers. “You just have to stop worrying about everything so much.”

  “Yeah, but I don’t have just me to worry about,” she mutters, her hand twitching underneath mine, but she doesn’t pull back.

  We sink into silence as Willow stares out the window, lost in thought, probably stressing over her car, her mom, school, bills. At eighteen years old, she has more responsibilities than most people have in a lifetime. I wish I could take some of the burden away for her, but she rarely accepts my offers to help. I love helping her. I wish she’d stop being so stubborn and let me fix her car so I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting into another situation like tonight. Until she does get her car fixed, I’ll spend my nights worrying about her safety.

  Then again, at this point in my life, I should be used to it.

  Ever since grade school when we first became friends, I felt a need to protect Willow, like when other kids teased her because she wore old clothes and glasses that were too big. Plus, she was so shy and rarely stood up for herself. That quickly became my job, and I spent many recesses warding off anyone who dared come near her on the playground. During middle school, though, my warding off days diminished, mostly because Willow changed.

  So did the way I looked at her.

  I remember the moment clearly. My mom had dragged me to France with her for the entire summer, and I didn’t see Willow for three months straight. By the time I returned, I was excited to go back to school, to return to normalcy, to eat a cheeseburger, and to see my friends, particularly Willow. Partly because I wanted to check up on her, and partly because I simply missed her.

  I didn’t get a chance to see her until the first day of school, but a couple of our other friends, she, and I all agreed over the phone to meet out front so we could walk in together.

  Wynter showed up first. She looked pretty much the same as she had at the beginning of summer. Her blonde hair was a little longer, and she was wearing a dress like she usually did.

  “Hello, Beckett. Long time no see.” She plopped down beside me on the short wall that ran down the side of the stairway that led to the school.

  “I wish you’d stop calling me that.” My lip twitched. I hated when she called me Beckett. My dad used my full name when he yelled at me, telling me how much of a screw-up I am. Wynter knew I loathed the name, but she loved getting under my skin.

  “Why?” Her eyes sparkled mischievously in the sunlight. “It’s your name, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah, but you know I hate it.”

  “Which makes it even more appealing.”

  I blew out an exasperated breath, keeping my lips sealed. It was too early in the morning to argue with her, something we did a lot. Some of my friends said we acted this way because we were so much alike. Perhaps that was true. Wynter came from a wealthy family like me, and our parents could sometimes be neglectful. But they made up for their absence by showering us with gifts. Still, I thought Wynter acted more spoiled than I did.

  She crossed her legs, fiddling with her diamond bracelet. “So was Paris any fun? I bet it was. I wish my parents would take me there. They hate taking me on trips with them, though. You’re so lucky your mom takes you places sometimes.”

  “Yeah, I guess so.” I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but going on trips with my mom meant sitting in a hotel room while she went shopping. The only reason she brought me was because my dad didn’t want to be responsible for me.

  I sat back on my hands and stared at the people walking up and down the stairway in front of us. “The food kind of sucked, though.”

bsp; “Whatever. I bet it didn’t. I bet you were just being … well, you.”

  I shot her a dirty look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  She gave a half-shrug. “That sometimes, you don’t appreciate the finer things in life.”

  I shot an insinuating look at the bracelet on her wrist. “Isn’t that like the pot calling the kettle black?”

  She covered the bracelet with her hand. “That’s different. I appreciate my parents for getting this for me.”

  “And I appreciate my mom for taking me to Paris. That doesn’t mean I have to lie and say I liked the food or say I had a blast when I didn’t.”

  “God, you’re so spoiled.”

  I resisted an eye roll, biting my tongue. Again, it was too early in the morning for this shit.

  “Do you know what time Willow and Luna are supposed to be here?” I glanced at the parent drop-off section at the bottom of the stairway. “I really want to go see where my locker is before the bell rings. Oh, yeah, and I met this guy—Ari—the other day when I was hanging out at the skate park. He just moved here. He seems pretty cool. I told him he could hang out with us.”

  “What’s he like? Is he cute?”

  “What do I look like, a girl?”

  “Sometimes, you act like one.”

  God, I really need more guy friends.

  “And you can be such a brat sometimes, but you don’t see me pointing it out every two seconds.” I waved at Levi and Jack, two of my other friends, ignoring Wynter’s withering gaze.

  Levi cupped his hands around his mouth. “Yo, Beck, you coming in?”

  “In a bit,” I called out. “I’m waiting for Luna and Willow to show up.”

  “So, which one of them are you dating now?” Levi teased, and Jack laughed.

  I flipped them the middle finger, and they howled with laughter before pushing through the entrance doors.

  “I can’t believe people are still giving you crap for hanging out with girls,” Wynter said, frowning. “They really just need to get over it.”

  “You mean like you just did?” I questioned.

  She shrugged. “That’s different.”

  “How do you figure?”

  “Because I’m your friend.”

  I didn’t even bother trying to understand her logic. Instead, I asked her what classes she was taking, which seemed like a safe topic.

  Wynter and I talked until we spotted Luna’s mom’s van pulling into the drop-off area. The side door rolled open, and Luna hopped out. She was wearing a godawful yellow turtleneck and baggy jeans. Poor girl. I didn’t know why she dressed in such hideous outfits. I figured her mom made her. I didn’t know for sure, though. Other kids made fun of her a lot, and I stuck up for her when I could, but it never felt like enough.

  Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, Luna moved to the rolled down passenger window to talk to her mom while Willow jumped out. Well, I thought the tall girl without glasses was Willow, anyway. I wasn’t so sure.

  She looked way different. Her long brown hair was down and wavy, and she was wearing tight black jeans, a thick pair of boots laced up to her knees, and a plaid shirt over a fitted tank top.

  I assessed her as she waited for Luna to finish talking to her mom. The clothes weren’t flashy, but Willow usually wore loose-fitted jeans, baggy T-shirts, glasses, and her hair was always in a ponytail. She looked so different that it was kind of wigging me out.

  When the two of them headed up the stairs, I hopped off the wall to meet them halfway. The closer I got, the more I noticed that Willow had gotten taller, and she filled out her clothes more. She looked good. Really, really good.

  I quickly shoved the thought away. No fucking way was I going there. Getting a crush on my best friend would be stupid. And there were plenty of other girls around, ones who wouldn’t destroy my life when we broke up. And that’s what would happen if I dated Willow and we broke up. I’d lose the only person who knew most of my secrets, who knew how crappy I felt when my dad told me I was a screw-up, who knew I secretly cried during sad movies sometimes, who knew I got lonely a lot. Who would break just as much if she lost me, too. Because Willow needed me as much as I needed her.

  Clearing my head of Willow’s sudden hotness, I continued down the stairway straight for her. When Willow spotted me, her eyes lit up as she bounced and threw her arms around me.

  “I’m so glad you’re back.” She hugged the crap out of me. “I missed you.”

  I hugged her back, spinning her around until she laughed. “I missed you, too.” And I was so worried about you while I was gone.

  Wynter glowered at me as I set Willow down on her feet. “Why didn’t I get that kind of hello?” she asked.

  I shrugged, and her eyes narrowed even more. I didn’t have an answer to give her, not one I was going to share.

  The truth was, ever since the day Willow confided in me about her home life, I felt an overpowering connection to her, enough that I told her some of my secrets, too.

  “So, how was Paris?” Willow asked me excitedly. “Was it as cool as it sounds? Because it sounds pretty cool.”

  “It was okay.” I stuffed my hands into my back pockets. “It would’ve been more fun if you were there.”

  “See? Again, he’s nicer to Willow,” Wynter whined to Luna. “Why can’t we get that kind of treatment?”

  “Beck is nice to us,” Luna said, fidgeting with the collar of her turtleneck.

  Ignoring them, I pulled out a small box from my backpack. “I got you something.” I handed the box to Willow. “I saw it in the airport, and it kind of reminded me of you.”

  “You didn’t have to get me anything.” But she smiled and opened the box. “Oh! Cool.” She picked up the miniature snow globe and gave it a shake. Then her eyes met mine, her smile practically glowing, which made me feel like I was glowing. “Thanks, Beck. You’re the best. Seriously, you spoil me too much.”

  I shrugged, playing it cool, but really, I felt super proud that I got her to smile. “I figured you could add it to that collection your dad gave you.”

  The happiness in her eyes faded to sadness as her eyes traveled to the snow globe. “Yeah, I could.”

  Crap. I didn’t think it through very well. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to remind you of your dad.” I reached for the snow globe. “I can get rid of it if you want.”

  She tucked it behind her back, shaking her head. “No way. I love it too much. Plus, it’s from Paris.”

  I relaxed, wondering why I was so nervous. “Good. I’m glad you like it. My mom tried to talk me into buying you a bracelet, but I told her you weren’t a bracelet kind of girl.”

  “No, I’m definitely not.” Willow fell into step with me as we headed up the stairway, staring at the snow globe in her hand. Luna and Wynter followed, lost in their own conversation.

  “So, how was your summer?” I asked, hoping to distract her from thoughts of her jerk of a father who bailed on her and her mom. “You didn’t have any problems, right? I mean, with your mom?”

  “I guess not … Her new boyfriend moved in with us about a month ago … He has a cat …” She sighed, rotating the snow globe in her hand. “I think I’m allergic to cats. I wake up every day sneezing, and my eyes are always red.”

  “Aw, Wills, I’m so sorry.” I draped an arm around her and steered her to the side as I maneuvered the door open. “What can I do to make you feel better?”

  “I don’t think there’s anything you can do.” Her frown deepened as we wandered down the busy hallway with Luna and Wynter still trailing behind us. “You know how my mom gets … And it’s just a cat.” Another stressed sigh. “It just sucks because her stupid boyfriend doesn’t even like kids. He told me that when he moved in, that he hates kids and that I need to make sure I stay out of his way or he might have to send me off to boarding school.” She shook her head, folding her fingers around the snow globe. “Like he could really do that. He doesn’t even have a job.”

  I hated that
her mom put her boyfriends above Willow and that she brought such sketchy guys into the house. I once offered to let Willow live in one of our five guest rooms so she could get away from her mom’s creepy boyfriends. I doubted my parents would notice her living with us, considering they were hardly ever home. But Willow declined like she usually did when I tried to give her things. Even when she needed my help, she had a hard time asking.

  I massaged her shoulder. “I should get you a dog, one that’s well-trained and will keep that guy away and the cat, too.”

  “My mom would probably get rid of it.” She tucked the snow globe into the side pocket of her backpack then looked at me, forcing a smile on her face. “Tell me more about Paris. Did you see the Eiffel Tower? Oh, please tell me you went to the catacombs.”

  Noting the desperate subject change, I started telling her about my trip, even though I really didn’t want to talk about it.

  By the time we reached my locker, I noticed quite a few people, particularly guys, glancing in our direction. I figured they were looking at Wynter because that happened a lot. And sometimes guys would come up and ask me about her, see if she had a boyfriend. Later, when I was doodling in math class, I found out that the staring wasn’t about Wynter after all.

  “Hey, Beck, can I ask you something?” Levi plopped down into the desk in front of mine. “It’s about that girl Willow you’re always hanging out with.”

  I peered up from my doodling, confused. “Okay.”

  He twisted in his seat and rested his arms on my desk. “Does she have a boyfriend?”

  His question threw me off guard.


  My Willow?

  I wasn’t sure how to respond. Normally, with Wynter, I answered honestly. Now, I found myself desperate to lie, to say that she did have a boyfriend so Levi wouldn’t ask her out. Not that I didn’t like Levi; I just didn’t want Willow to have a boyfriend.

  “She does, actually.” I sat back in my seat. “I think he’s a grade ahead of us.”

  “Really?” Levi frowned, thrumming his fingers on top of the desk. “Well, that sucks. She seems pretty cool. Plus, she’s hot.”