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The Year of Second Chances, Page 2

Jessica Sorensen

  His lips twitch, threatening to turn upward. "Maybe." He turns around and pulls me into the living room, mumbling, "I'd admit anything if it got you to smile like that."

  He says it so faintly, but I still hear it, and my heart flutters in my chest like a hummingbird buzzing on a nectar high.

  Kai is always so nice to me, like all the time. And everything is so easy with him, unlike with his older brother Kyler.

  Kyler. Le sigh.

  I'm not sure what to do about him. He texted me the other day, asking if I wanted to go out today. I replied with a lie like a coward, telling him I couldn't because I had to help my grandma Stephy with something. I know I need to have a talk with him and tell him that I think we should be friends or something along those lines. I've never had that kind of a talk with a guy before, though, and I really want to get Indigo's advice first. I'm completely clueless over what to do, what the right thing is to say. All I know is that my years and years long crush on Kyler is flatlining the more time I spend with Kai. While I don't know what that means--whether I like Kai that way or not--I don't think I should be going on dates with Kyler.

  After Kai steers me to the sofa, he instructs me to sit down then collects his laptop from the coffee table and plops down beside me. Balancing the laptop on his lap, he boots up the screen, and for once, a passcode box doesn't immediately pop up.

  "No way ... You didn't ... Did you ...?" My heart races so violently that I really do wonder if I was correct about surprise presents being a form of torture.

  He places a hand on my knee, steadying my bouncing leg. "Calm down, okay? What's on here"--he tosses a quick glance at the computer screen--"could be a good thing, but I don't want you to freak out yet. Not until I look through all the files and folders."

  "But you did it, right?" I ask. "You cracked the code on the flash drive?"

  His gaze glides back to me, and he nods. "I seriously don't even know how I did it, but I did. And there's a ton of files on here about your mom's case." He rakes his fingers through his hair, making the blond strands go askew. "But, like I said, I haven't gone through all of them yet ... Still, some of the stuff on here seems promising--"

  "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" I cut him off, looping my arms around his neck.

  Nervousness, excitement, worry, and gratefulness crash through me simultaneously, and I start to tremble with emotional overload.

  "I know this doesn't mean she's innocent, but just hearing you say the word promising is, like, the best thing I've heard in weeks." I hug the living daylights out of him for another moment or two then pull away.

  Again, he doesn't immediately release me, circling his arms around my waist, instead.

  "Some of the stuff I've skimmed through already ... It makes me question how she was ever found guilty," he says softly, resting his chin on my shoulder. "Just try not to get too excited until I read through everything, okay?"

  I try to do what he asks and not get overly thrilled, especially when my mom is currently behind bars, but what Kai just told me makes a tiny bit of weight fall off my shoulders.

  "I'll try not to." I hug the bejesus out of him. "But I'm still going to say thank you at least a million times ... And I'm going to make this up to you ... somehow."

  "You don't need to make anything up to me." He traces a path up and down my spine. "I wanted to do this for you."

  "Still, you worked so hard." I swallow hard as his fingers tangle through my hair. "And I know you haven't been sleeping that great ..." I trail off as he nuzzles his face against the crook of my neck.

  "The only thing I want is for you to go out and have some fun with me today," he says. "We're supposed to be at the paintball place at noon, and I want you to be ready to have some fun."

  I nod, planning on finding a way to make this up to him. I'm not sure if he realizes what a big deal this is to me--giving me a glimmer of hope at the end of a very long tunnel I've been stuck sprinting down for days. The end never seemed to be within reach, and I was starting to worry I was going to run until my legs and lungs gave out. And now I have hope that maybe, one day, I'll be able to rest again and escape the damn tunnel.

  Gratitude overpowers me, and I turn my head, placing a soft kiss on his cheek. I've never been much for kissing or hugging, probably because I haven't really been hugged or kissed a lot in my life. But my gesture seems appropriate for the circumstances. At least, I hope it does.

  "Thank you, Kai," I say. "Not just for this, but for being there for me and making sure I didn't lose it."

  He lifts his head, his eyes wide and his lips slightly parted in shock.

  Crap, maybe I misread that. Maybe a cheek kiss is not the kind of thing to do when my possibly best friend just gave me the best gift ever.

  His shocked expression gradually evaporates as he searches my eyes. "You're welcome," he finally says then leans forward and grazes his lips against mine.

  I suck in a breath, caught off guard. Then my shock quickly goes poof because, holy tap dancing butterflies, his lips are so deliciously soft. Like chocolate velvet cake with buttercream frosting soft. No, better than that. Better than any sugary treat I can think of. Indescribably better.

  I want more. I wonder if he does, too, or if he's just giving me a friendly kiss back. I'm unsure. I'm unsure about everything right now. I seriously might be the most unsure girl in the world. My new superhero nickname could be Clueless About Kissing, and my kryptonite would be cute guys who used to live next door, ones who can make me smile almost effortlessly.

  Kai lets out a soft groan, his lips parting and his tongue slipping out. My heart slams against my chest.

  Holy crap, he's going to kiss me. Like, really, really kiss me.

  "Isa, have you seen my car keys!" Grandma Stephy shouts from the hallway, dousing the moment like a cold bucket of ice water.

  Kai and I jerk back like we just got busted making out, though we weren't. We were just friendly kissing.

  Weren't we?

  "Okay, you're not in your room," grandma Stephy says loudly with heavy suspicion in her tone. Her voice rises, her footsteps growing closer. "I hope that doesn't mean you slept on the couch."

  "No," I call out, smoothing my hands over my hair. "We're just hanging out, looking at something ... on the computer."

  Kai chuckles. "Is that what we were doing? Hmm ... I didn't know looking at stuff on the computer required so much lip contact."

  "You shush." I aim a finger at him. "If she hears you, she'll think we were doing something dirty." I tap the computer screen with my finger. "Pretend like you're doing something on your computer."

  His brow teases upward. "Something dirty, huh?" he muses, rubbing his jaw. "Just what kind of dirty stuff are you talking about? I think I might need some details, so I know what I'm in store for if your grandma starts making accusations."

  My cheeks turn all glowy warm. "Now's not the time to be funny."

  He winks at me. "When it makes you blush like that, it is."

  "Kai," I hiss in a panic. "Pretty please, just do something on your computer."

  Pressing back a smile, he returns his focus to the computer. "Fine, but only because you said pretty please."

  Right as he fixes his attention back on the computer, grandma Stephy enters the room.

  "You two look suspicious," she immediately says with her, as Kai puts it, "hawk" gaze flickering back and forth between us. "So, what have you two been up to this morning? This very early morning, I might add."

  I give a shrug. "Nothing. We were just looking up some stuff on the computer for a school project."

  "A school project, huh?" She steps farther into the room with her arms crossed. "Aren't normal teenagers supposed to hate getting up this early?"

  Giving another shrug, I kick up my bare feet on the table, pretending to be all badass chill when I'm scared out of my damn mind she's going to think I spent the night on the sofa with Kai, whip out a condom from her pocket, and give us both a safe sex lecture. "I gues
s we're not normal teenagers, then, because we love getting up this early."

  Kai shoots me a really look, and I helplessly shrug.

  "I may be old, but I'm not stupid," she says. "I know you two are up to something, and while I'd love to stay here and watch you squirm in your britches, I've got a yoga class I need to get to." She points a finger back and forth between Kai and me. "But don't think this is over. I'm watching both of you, and trust me, I see everything, even when I'm not around." With one final stern look, she ruffles her fingers through her hair and glances around the living room then the kitchen. "Now where did I put my car keys?"

  Okay ... So much for seeing everything.

  I lower my feet to the floor, push up from the sofa, and collect the car keys from off the wall hook in the dining room. "They're right here where they always are."

  She takes the keys from me. "Dammit, I swear I'm starting to lose my damn mind."

  I swallow hard as guilt knots in my stomach. This is all my fault. I'm stressing her out too much.

  "Maybe you should get more rest."

  She waves me off, gathering up her purse from off the counter. "I've spent enough of my life resting. If I lose my mind, then I lose my mind, but at least I'll be doing whatever I want up until that point." Noticing my worry, she grows serious and puts a hand on each of my shoulders. "I want you to promise you won't worry about me. You have enough to worry about as it is."

  I nod, despite the guilt clogging up my throat. "I'll try my best."

  She draws me in for a hug. "I'll be back by noon if you want to go out for lunch."

  "That sounds great, but I'm going with Kai to paintball zombies."

  "Paintball zombies?" She moves back with a questioning look on her face. "That's a thing?"

  I shrug. "Apparently. He got me my own paintball gun and everything."

  "Hmmm ... Sounds like the perfect day for you. He must've put a lot of thought into it." She glances back and forth between Kai and me, a knowing smile touching her lips. "All right, I'll let you two off the hook for now, but only because I want you to go out and have some fun. But"--she points a finger at me--"I better not catch you two trying to get frisky when you think I'm not around."

  Oh, my God! She did not seriously just say that!

  Kai chokes on a laugh, and grandma Stephy wags a finger at him.

  "I mean it, young man," she warns. "No getting handsy with my granddaughter. She's a sweet, innocent girl and should be treated that way."

  I lower my head into my hands, mortified. Someone, please, please put me out of my misery.

  "Yes, ma'am," Kai says with amusement.

  "Good boy," she tells him then slings the strap of her purse over her shoulder and heads for the front door. "Isa, is there anything specific you want for dinner or any place you want to go eat at?"

  I raise my head and look at her. "Whatever's easiest on you works for me."

  "Don't worry about that." She grips the doorknob. "I just want you to worry about what you want."

  "Let's just go out, then." That way, she won't have to worry about cooking.

  She opens the door. "All right, I'll see you at about six." She starts to step outside but halts. "And Kai is more than welcome to come with us, just as long as you two promise not to do anything lovey-dovey like feed each other at the table."

  When I gape at her, she shoots me an innocent smile before strolling out the door.

  Shaking my head, I turn around to face Kai. "I love her to death, but I swear she loves embarrassing me."

  Kai grins. "We should pay her back, then, and feed each other at the table."

  That gets me to laugh. "That would be funny, but I don't think it'd embarrass her. It'd probably give her more ammunition to embarrass us."

  "Us?" he questions with a crook of his brow. "Isa, Isa, Isa ... You silly, cute girl, you should know better than to think anything your grandma says will embarrass me. We both know you're the one who gets embarrassed."

  I roll my eyes, like "how absurd," even though it's true. "Whatever. I so do not."

  "Oh, really?" A challenge dances in his eyes as he sets the computer aside, rises to his feet, and slowly crosses the room toward me. "So you're saying that, when I call you a silly girl or cute, you don't get all squirmy?" He stops in front of me and grazes his knuckles across my cheeks. "And your cheeks don't get all pink?"

  "No." My blazing, wildfire cheeks declare my lie. "I didn't even realize you called me stuff like that."

  A cocky smile plays at the corners of his lips. "You're such a liar, but that's okay. That's kind of cute, too." My embarrassment soars through the roof while a winner's grin plasters across his face. "See? There you go, looking all cute again."

  Rolling my eyes, I brush past him and change the subject before my flaming hot cheeks erupt in flames. "Can we look at those files now?" I reach to pick up the computer.

  He gently smacks my hand away. "No way. You have to go get ready to fake kill some zombies."

  I glance at the time on the clock. "But you said we're going at noon, and it's only nine o'clock."

  "We have to make a couple of stops first." He collects the laptop and sits down on the sofa. "I have to go talk to someone about letting me crash at their place rent-free for a couple of weeks until I can get a job and start paying half the rent. Then I have to apply for a couple of jobs. And then, later tonight, one of my friends is going to give me some spare tires and help tow my car back to town."

  "He's just going to give you some spare tires? That's nice of him."

  "Yeah, it is. He actually got them from a junkyard that his dad owns. They're not great or anything, but they should last long enough to get the car home."

  "Does he have a tow truck, too?"

  "Nope, just a tow dolly, but it should work."

  "Good. I'm glad that's one less thing you have to worry about."

  "Me, too." He taps the track pad, opening a file. "Although, I still don't know how I'm going to get the car fixed. I need to save up some money for repairs, but not before I pay ..." He trails off. "But, yeah, anyway, I really need to save up some money. Of course, at this point, I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should just try to sell the car parts and make some money. It's not that fancy of a car, anyway." He frowns. "I'd have to take the bus, though, which sucks."

  I think of his desperate need for cash and of T, how he may have broken Kai's rib over something. I'm guessing it might have something to do with money--Kai refuses to tell me the details.

  "What did you mean when you said before you pay?" I press, sitting down beside him. "Before paying whom, exactly?"

  Frowning, he reaches over and gives my thigh a featherlight pinch. "Oh, no, you don't. You're supposed to be getting ready to go."

  "But, Kai--"

  He covers my mouth with his hand. "We're not worrying about me today." His tone is firm. "Today is about having fun."

  "But I'm worried about you." I kiss his palm. "You've never told me what's going on with this T guy, and I know it's something bad."

  "That's my problem, not yours." He lowers his hand from my mouth. "You have your own stuff to worry about."

  "But I want to help you"--I scoot closer until my knee touches his--"like you always help me. I feel so guilty about it all the time."

  "You don't need to feel guilty. What's going on isn't your fault."

  "I know that, but that doesn't make me want to help you any less." I place my hand over his. "Let me help you."

  He stares at my hand on his with a torn look on his face. "I'll tell you what." He lifts his gaze to mine and tangles our fingers together. "After we've gone paintballing and out to dinner with your grandma and after I've looked through all of these files, then we can talk."

  "You promise?"

  "Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in Hannah's eye."

  Smiling, I push to my feet to go to my room and change while he gets busy with the computer files.

  "Make sure you wear something that
you don't mind getting paint on," Kai calls out. "As much as I love seeing you in those skirts, I'm not sure you want to get paint all over those cute, long legs of yours."

  Damn him! Why is he so determined to make me turn into a squirrely, blushing girl?

  I bail out of the living room before he can see how much his words affect me. By the time I make it to my room, the blushing has faded and been replaced by confusion.

  If only I could read his mind and see what he's thinking, then maybe I wouldn't be so confused all the time.

  Sighing, I rummage through my clothes, looking for something that I don't mind ruining. I settle on a pair of holey jeans, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a hoodie with a pair of clunky red boots. I take a quick shower then get dressed and comb my hair, pulling the damp strands into a side braid.

  My thoughts drift back to Kai and the files, wondering how long it will take him to look through everything. Will he find anything? Will I be able to handle whatever he does find?

  I stare at my reflection in the foggy mirror. "You'll able to handle it," I tell myself with fierce determination. "You don't have any other choice."

  Even after my pep talk, a heavy sense of doubt weighs on my mind. I think the doubt might only go away after I talk to my mom and hear what she has to say. I just wish I knew how I was going to get to Virginia to visit her in prison and how I'm going to convince grandma Stephy to let me go.

  I'm almost eighteen. I could just wait until then, when I'm legally an adult and don't need permission. Kai told me he'd go with me so I won't be alone, but I don't want to stress out my grandma, and I worry this might. But I need to see my mom, even if it turns out she's guilty. I'll never get closure if I don't, and I will always be left wondering who the person who brought me into this world is, whether she was always bad, and what happened that day she decided to end someone's life.

  Releasing a stressed breath, I secure an elastic at the end of my braid then head back to my bedroom. I grab some cash from my money stash and then pick up my phone from off the nightstand. Noting I have one missed text, I open my messages, hoping Indigo finally replied. But the message is from an unknown caller, and I cringe. The last time I received a text from an unknown number was right before I discovered the flyers.

  I almost tuck the phone into the back pocket of my jeans and give a silent "screw you" to the caller. But then my phone buzzes in my hand as another text comes through.