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Rules of a Rebel and a Shy Girl, Page 2

Jessica Sorensen

  “Please stop being difficult.” Her bleary eyes plead with me to understand. “Bill already thinks you’re gone, so you need to get out of here before he finds out I lied to him.”

  Tears of mortification sting my eyes as I put the phone to my ear. “Beck?”

  “I heard,” he says tightly. “I’m already heading out to the car with Theo.”

  A shaky breath falters from my lips as I fight back the waterworks. “Your brother got his license?”


  “What does that mean?”

  “It means he has his learner’s permit. But don’t worry. He’s a really good driver.”

  “What if your parents find out?” Guilt gnaws at my stomach. “Won’t you guys get into trouble?”

  “They won’t find out,” he promises. “Now chin up, princess. We’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”

  By the time I hang up, tears are slipping down my cheeks. I quickly wipe them away with the back of my hand.

  “All good?” my mom asks as I give her back the phone.

  I nod, though nothing feels good. At all. In fact, the whole situation makes me feel terribly icky inside.

  A droopy smile forms on her lips as she stuffs the phone into the pocket of her pants. “Then you should probably get packed and wait for him on the steps. I don’t want Bill to start yelling at you again. I’m sure that probably scares you.” She wraps her arms around me. “Thank you so much for doing this, sweetie. You’re such a good daughter. How did I get so lucky?”

  I wish I could believe her, but if her words were true, then why is she always kicking me out of the house and leaving me all the time? I don’t ask, though, too afraid of the answer.

  She hugs me before walking out of my room. I hurry and pack, slip on a jacket and sneakers, and wait outside on the porch, but I quickly bail when a couple of kids a few years older than me try to persuade me to get high with them.

  When Beck finally pulls up, I’m standing at the edge of the parking lot in the dark, hiding near the entrance sign to the single-story apartment complex I live in.

  “What’re you doing out here?” Beck asks as he hops out of the fancy sports car that belongs to his older brother Theo.

  I rush toward him, scuffing my sneakers in the dirt. “Some guys were trying to get me to do drugs, so I thought I’d be safer out here.”

  He shakes his head, taking hold of my hand. The second his skin touches mine, a calming warmth spreads through me.

  “Next time, wait inside,” he says, eyeing the guys loitering near the door to my apartment. Their attention is trained on us, smoke is lacing the air, and when one guy whispers something to the other, my legs turn into Jell-O.

  Beck must sense my nervousness because he hauls me closer and steers us toward the car.

  “I would’ve waited in the house, but my mom told me I had to wait on the porch.” I clutch his hand, wishing I never had to let go.

  I can’t see his face, but he tightens his fingers around my hand as he opens the back door and slides into the backseat, pulling me in with him. Once the door is shut, Theo drives out onto the street.

  “Are you okay?” Theo asks, casting a quick glance in the rearview mirror.

  Theo usually teases Beck and me, making kissing faces and cracking jokes about liking each other, so his niceness throws me off.

  “I’m fine.” But I’m shaking, which can’t mean I’m fine, right?

  Beck notices, shucks off his hoodie, and places it over my shoulders. “It’s going to be okay.” He drapes an arm around my shoulder and kisses the side of my head. “I won’t ever let anything happen to you. I promise.”

  I know it’s silly, but a guy has never kissed me before, not even on the cheek. My skin burns from where his lips touched, and all I can think is, I feel so cared for.


  I lean into him, resting my head on his shoulder, believing his promise way more than I do my mom’s. “Thank you, Beck,” I whisper, “for everything.”

  “You’re welcome.” He gives me a sideways hug. “I’ll always be here for you, Wills.”

  I hope he’s right. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

  While Rule #1—the very first list—is in play…

  Chapter Two


  Five years later…

  Sometimes, I wonder if luck has a vendetta against me. Perhaps I unknowingly offended it, and now it’s pissed off and determined to break me down. That would explain a lot about my life.

  I know how cuckoo I sound. And in reality, I don’t actually believe luck exists, at least in a physical sense. But pretending it does makes situations like this easier. Then I don’t have to deal with the truth: that my life is just really, really shitty and that lately, I’ve made it shittier by making shitty choices.

  “Goddammit, not again,” I curse as I steer my car over to the side of the road.

  Smoke funnels from the hood, and the engine growls like a dying Gremlin as I shove the shifter into park and shut down the engine. Leaving the headlights on, I unbuckle my seatbelt and slip on a hoodie over my work uniform, trying to cover up one of the many bad decisions I made tonight: not changing out of my outfit before I left work. In my defense, I was in a rush to get home and check on my mom who hasn’t texted me in over six hours. And that would be yet another bad decision: leaving my mom home alone after she spent the entire night sobbing and drinking away her broken heart, searching for the pieces in the bottom of a bottle.

  I really should’ve called in sick.

  But then how would you pay rent?

  I send my mom another text, but she doesn’t reply. Shoving down my anxiety over something possibly being really wrong this time, I climb out of the car to check out the damage. The cool November air nips at my bare legs and stings my cheeks as I go to the trunk and grab the flashlight I put in there after the last time my car broke down. Then I walk around to the front of my car and pop the hood open.

  Smoke plumes into my face as the engine hisses, which probably means it overheated, something that’s been happening on and off for a month now. I need to take it to a shop to get fixed, but my mom hasn’t been able to hold a steady job since boyfriend number forty-five dumped her for someone half her age. And with me starting college, our financial situation has gone from crappy to desperately nonexistent, which leads me to my third bad decision: my new job.

  I pull the jacket securely around me as I glance up and down the dark, desolate highway that stretches between Ridgefield and Fairs Hollow. Fairs Hollow is where I attend college and work, but I’ve been staying at home in Ridgefield because I can’t afford to pay my mom’s rent and mine. Plus, I really need to keep an eye on my mom after her boyfriend just dumped her. That may not sound that bad, but my mom doesn’t handle breakups very well. No, scratch that. My mom doesn’t handle breakups at all. She buries her pain in alcohol until the next guy comes along. Then she either gets high with him or gets high off the relationship, and for as long as that lasts, she’s happy. But when they break up, she sinks into a pit of despair. This has been going on for years, and I’ve spent many nights making sure she doesn’t die in her sleep after days of binge drinking and drugs, something she was doing before I left for work earlier.

  Uneasiness crushes my chest, and I retrieve my phone from the pocket of my shorts to send her yet another message. Then I get back into the car and send Luna, Wynter, and Ari, three of my best friends, a pleading text that I’m stuck out on the highway and need help.

  While I wait for them to respond, I lock the doors and flip on my emergency lights, crossing my fingers no one stops. That might sound crazy, but the last time my car broke down, a guy stopped and offered me twenty bucks if I sucked him off in the backseat. He was forty-something with a godawful comb-over, and he was sporting a shiny wedding ring. So, not only was he a complete creeper, but a cheating bastard, just like a lot of the guys my mom dates.

  When I told him just that, he looked as
if he wanted to slap me. Thank God Wynter showed up, or who knows what would’ve happened?

  I shiver at the thought, nausea winding in the pit of my stomach. The ill feeling expands as my mind wanders to my job and how many creepers I’ve met there over the last couple of months. It’s my own damn fault. I chose to work at the shithole when I knew the shitty rep the place has. I chose to put myself in that situation in order to pay mine and my mom’s bills and still afford to attend school, which will hopefully help me get ahead in life instead of continuously being behind like I’ve been for my entire childhood.

  I chose, I chose, I chose my luck.

  I lower my head to the steering wheel. “God, what I wouldn’t give to have just one single moment when it doesn’t feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. Is that too much to ask? To just have one lucky day when my cards align?”

  I don’t even know who I’m talking to, but they definitely answer with a big fat no as my phone buzzes with messages from both Luna and Wynter.

  Wynter: I’m actually at the airport, getting ready to head to New York to see my grandma, so I can’t :( You should try Luna, though. I think she’s in Ridgefield for the week.

  I soon discover that Wynter is wrong about Luna as I open the other message I received.

  Luna: Oh, my gosh! That sucks! I wish I could come get you, but Grey and I are already on the road to Virginia. We’re about three hours out, but we can totally turn around and drive back if you need us to.

  Despite the panic strangling the air from my lungs, I can’t help smiling. Luna’s one of the nicest people I know, and if I told her to turn around, she would. But I’m not about to make her bail out on her road trip with her boyfriend so she can come pick up my pathetic ass.

  I text back and tell her it’s okay. Then I message Wynter to have fun in New York with a tiny flame of jealousy burning in my chest.

  It’s Thanksgiving break. I should be going on trips to spend the holiday with family or at least doing something other than being stuck on the side of the road after getting off from a job that makes me feel disgusting inside.

  I shut my eyes and take a few measured breaths, but the memory of a few hours ago flashes through my mind and my chest constricts.

  Music booming, lights flashing, and the air reeks of alcohol and dirty money.

  As I walk by the bar, a man slips a twenty in my back pocket. “Let me buy you a drink, gorgeous,” he says with a toothy grin, his hand resting on my hip.

  I fight back the urge to smash my fist in his face for putting his hand on me and, instead, smile sweetly. “Sorry, but I can’t drink on the job.”

  His other hand finds my waist, and he drags me toward the stool he’s sitting on. He smells like stale peanuts, and his bald head reflects the neon ceiling lights.

  “How about this, then.” He leans in, dipping his lips toward my ear. “When you get off your shift, you meet me out back.” His hands wander toward my ass. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

  I lift my hand instinctively to slap him across his face, but Gus, the manager, shoots me a warning look from behind the bar. Correcting myself, I plaster on the fake smile that’s starting to feel more real with each passing day.

  My phone buzzes in my hand, startling the bejesus out of me. My fingers tremble as I swipe open the message, hoping upon hope it’s from Ari, replying that yes, he’ll come pick me up. But Luna’s name pops up across the screen again.

  Luna: I texted Beck and he said he stayed home instead of going with his family to Vail, so he’ll come get you. Just let him know where you are. And make sure to text me when you get home, so I know you made it back safely :)

  Her text is sweet, but the mention of Beck makes my stomach ravel into knots. Beck is still one of my best friends in the entire universe, maybe more than even Wynter, Luna, and Ari combined. But even though I tell him almost everything, I’ve never mentioned and never plan on mentioning my new job. And if he sees me in my uniform, reeking of sweat, beer, and disgustingness, he’ll know something’s up.

  I flop my head back against the headrest and stare up at a hole in the fabric ceiling. What the heck am I going to tell him? I usually bring an extra change of clothes, but I stayed up for half the night, trying to track my mom down at the local bar, and ended up sleeping in later than I normally do. I was in a rush when I left the house and forgot to grab my normal clothes.

  Before I can come up with a solution, my phone rings, and the screen illuminates the dark car.

  “Speak of the devil.” Summoning a breath, I answer, “Hey.”

  “Hey,” he replies in a light tone. “I heard you got yourself into a bit of trouble.”

  “Yeah, my car broke down again, but can I point out that you sound way too happy about the fact?”

  “I’m just happy I get to come play knight in shining armor for you again.”

  “Haven’t you done that enough? I thought you’d be tired of it by now.”

  “Is that why you didn’t text me yourself? Because you thought I was a lazy knight in shining armor?” he jokes, but a drop of hurt resides in his tone.

  “No, I thought you were in Vail,” I reply, eyeballing a car driving by.

  The truth is that I wasn’t sure if he went to Vail or not. I just didn’t call him because 1). Beck already does too much for me. And while that seemed okay when we were younger, I feel pathetic for still needing his help all the time when I’m now an adult. 2). The whole seeing me in my work outfit thing. And 3). Beck comes from a very wealthy family and sometimes has a hard time understanding financial struggles, like why I don’t just get my piece of shit car fixed. Answering with a “because I can’t afford it” leads to an offer to give me the money, which I’ll never accept, despite his persistence.

  There’s also a number four, but I hate thinking about that one, mostly because I hate that the number exists. But it has to. Otherwise, Beck and my friendship would become too complicated. The middle of senior year was a perfect example of this.

  We were at a party, and after way too many drinks and way too much time dirty dancing, we ended up in Beck’s bedroom, which wasn’t odd—we did that a lot—but that night felt different. That night, his touches and smiles caused my stomach to flutter.

  “You seem nervous,” he said as we sat on his bed, facing each other with our legs crossed. Music vibrated through the floorboards, and soft light filtered across the room.

  “I’m always nervous,” I admitted. This was Beck, the only person who truly understood the depth of my anxiety. “You know that.”

  “I do know that.” He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “But that doesn’t mean I want to know why any less, so spill.”

  “You’re just making me a little nervous tonight.” I didn’t know what else to tell him other than the truth, even if it had to do with him.

  He pressed his hand to his chest in shock. “I am?”

  I nodded, staring down at the comforter. “I don’t know why, though.” Or maybe I did, and I just didn’t want to admit it.

  He cupped his hand underneath my chin and angled my head up. “I don’t ever want you to be nervous around me. What can I do to make it better?”

  I shook my head, and for some wildly weird reason, my gaze roamed to his lips. I’d been doing it all night, wondering what kissing him would be like. I knew he’d kissed a handful of girls and heard rumors that he was a great kisser. I was curious, not just about kissing Beck, but kissing in general. I hadn’t done it. I had rules against it. Rules saved me from turning into my mother. Of course, with alcohol in my system, breaking rules seemed easier.

  “I really don’t know,” I whispered, unable to remove my focus from his lips.

  Silence took over except for the booming music playing downstairs. I wondered what other people were doing right now, what my friends were up to. Were they having more fun than me? Doubtful since my most fun moments were with Beck. Plus, he made me feel so safe, especially when he hugged me. Sometimes
, I wished I could stay in his arms forever. Life would be so much easier that way.

  “Wills.” His voice was low and husky.

  I tore my eyes away from his mouth and met his gaze. His eyes were blazing with an indecipherable hunger. I couldn’t figure out what was causing the look until he leaned in and grazed his lips against mine.

  I squeezed my eyes shut, parted my lips, and for a heart-stopping, soul-burning, mind-blowing moment, life was perfect. Then I snapped out of my stupidity and remembered life wasn’t perfect. I had lived in imperfection since I was six.

  Panic rose inside of me, and I ran like a coward.

  For weeks afterward, I could barely look Beck in the eye. Those were some of the loneliest days of my entire life. The only reason I was able to be friends with him again was because of the rule. A simple rule. At least, it seemed so on paper.

  Absolutely no lip-to-lip contact.

  Yep, that was my rule. I gave Beck a copy and keep the original in my glovebox. Having that boundary written down seems to be working for us.

  Sort of …

  “You sound stressed. What’s going on?” Beck’s troubled voice lures me out of the memory.

  Fear scorches through me as a car zooms by, and I sink even lower in the seat.

  “I’m always stressed. It comes with the territory of being a worrier,” I tell him. “But the place I’m broke down isn’t helping my anxiety, either.”

  “Where are you exactly?”

  “On the highway between Ridgefield and Fairs Hollow.”

  “Fuck, that’s in the middle of nowhere.”

  “Yeah, I know. I was …” I was what? Coming home from work? Because he thinks you work at a library, which is far, far away from here. “I had to run a few errands for my mom, and my stupid car decided it was going to overheat again.” God, I hate lying to him. It makes my heart ache.

  “You really need to get your car looked at,” he says over the chatter and piano music rising in the background.

  “I will,” I lie. Like I pointed out earlier, trying to explain not having money to Beck doesn’t work. “Where are you? I hear a lot of noise.”