Authors: Evelyne Stone
Copyright © 2014 by Evelyne Stone
Cover by Fantasia Frog Designs
Edited by Angi Black and Amanda L. Gordon
Alissa Sullivan has high hopes that the new year will bring a fresh start for her and her best friend. After learning her boyfriend cheated on her, she sets her sights on life outside of high school and Scott, the mysterious gym owner. For months he flirted shamelessly with her and now he's made it clear that as soon as she turns eighteen, the kid gloves are coming off.
Katherine Horne survived a year of emotional turmoil and has finally gotten to a point where she can breathe again. Her love interest, Dillon, just happens to be her best friend’s brother and life in her newfound adulthood is going nowhere but up. The only dark cloud in her sky? She worries there's something sinister at the core of the local anti-bullying group... and Alissa is caught right in the middle of it.
With fate's plan tugging the girls in one direction and karma in another, only one thing is certain – Kat and Alissa will never be the same.
The first day of the new year was bittersweet. It signified a new beginning with a clean slate. My best friend, Alissa, and I had graduated a semester early and we’d signed up for spring community college classes. I’d been looking forward to getting out of high school and hoped the drama I’d found myself in the midst of would disappear. Unfortunately, finding out that Alissa’s boyfriend had cheated on her at a new year’s party with the girl who made my high school life a living hell didn’t make me feel confident I could move on so fast.
I’d received a phone call from the police station telling me that Walt had been released from the hospital. Walt had nearly raped me during a Christmas party for the Lets Stand Against Bullying, or L.S.A.B., group. The police wanted to know if I was going to press charges. I’d let my mom handle all that crap. Against the advice of my counselor, I just wanted to forget about it all. I tried to talk myself out of feeling guilty about the whole situation, but knowing how much trouble Dillon could have gotten into made me sick.
Dillon, Alissa’s older brother, had found Walt pushing me up against the wall before he grabbed him and beat him until my attacker was unconscious. I had strong feelings for him before he turned into my hero, but after? Kissing him on the porch Christmas Eve only confirmed how head-over-heels I was for him.
Walt’s father decided not to press charges against Dillon because there was too much evidence against Walt, and I think they were hoping I would also drop charges. I didn’t think it was necessary because he hadn’t actually hurt me, but my mom didn’t seem content with him just being able to walk away. She was working with Alissa’s dad and I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
Dillon had returned to his Army base, and I hadn’t been able to go to the airport to drop him off because I’d started crying before we hugged goodbye. I was thankful his parents let us have a couple minutes alone before he left, but we didn’t do much kissing because my nose kept running. I’d almost pushed him out of the front door so he wouldn’t see me sobbing.
Sitting in front of my laptop, thinking about Dillon, I decided to try writing my first romance, a short story. Sure, all of my other stories had elements of young love or mystery, but now that I’d had a taste of the real thing, I knew it had to take center stage in my writing. I closed my eyes and could almost feel Dillon’s lips against mine, the slight tease of his tongue begging entrance to my mouth, his strong arms stealing around my back to pull me closer while one of his hands drifted further down…
A loud beep broke me out of my trance.
A user profile I didn’t recognize was trying to video chat. I ignored it but whoever it was attempted the chat for a third time. Frustrated, I clicked on the chat option, fully intending to message whomever it was to stop.
I realized I’d clicked on the wrong button when the camera screen popped up and I was face-to-face with Dillon.
“Thanks for finally answering,” he said, smiling at me through the computer. His eyes darkened with what looked like appreciation. “You look cute.”
I glanced down at my top, a simple white tank with no bra…
I threw myself off my chair and out of my camera’s line of sight.
Dillon’s laugh echoed throughout my room.
“Shut up,” I said, crawling over to my closet, desperately trying to find a bra in my hamper. I hid behind my closet door as I put it on, even though I knew he couldn’t possibly see me from his vantage point. I checked my hair in the mirror before sitting back down in front of the traitorous front-facing camera on my computer.
“Welcome back,” he grinned. He had his uniform on and his hair looked freshly cut. My heart twisted at the sight of him.
“Uh-huh. How is it being back?” I sat up straight, hoping he wouldn’t make fun of me.
“Good. I miss you, though.” The moment that left his lips, I heard someone in the background making fake kissing noises. “Shut it, man.”
“Ah, that must be the roommate.”
“He’ll pay for it the next time he calls his girl.”
My cheeks flushed in my hopes that Dillon referred to me as “his girl” when he talked about me. “I miss you, too. It’s cool that we can talk like this.”
“Yeah, but I can’t talk long. We have meetings this week, which doesn’t leave much free time.”
“I’ll email you in a little bit. I don’t expect you to write back right away.”
He rolled his eyes, still smiling. “Of course I’ll write you back. You have no idea how much I think about you.”
I was about to reply but I heard his roommate yell from off-screen, “Dude, you’re so gonna get your ass kicked if you keep talking like that.”
“Wouldn’t want that to happen,” I said, laughing as Dillon shook his head.
“Well, I don’t want you to hear any more of his BS. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
I smiled my best smile, hoping he wouldn’t see how my eyes were getting glassy. “Of course. Talk to you soon.”
He blew me a kiss and the screen went black.
I sat back in my chair, letting a couple tears drop while a few deep breaths helped contain the sadness. I’d missed Dillon the first time he’d come and gone but this time seemed like emotional torture. This time was different because now he was mine and I was his.
Alissa decided not to come over for a girl’s night, opting for a night in, complete with pouting. I had a hard time figuring out how she was taking the whole Matt thing. She acted as though it didn't bother her at all, but would then go on a verbal rampage about Kelly, Matt’s ex—whom he’d cheated on Alissa with—a few choice words, and avoided any contact with him, saying she just wanted him to go away. I suggested she talk to him and at least get an explanation, but that made her angry. I’d since decided to shut my mouth and let her deal with things the way she wanted to deal with them.
Besides, all I could focus on was the next time I could see Dillon. Alissa would get over her breakup in her own time, no matter what I did or said.
I woke up extremely nervous because, in my experience, the first day of school was never fun. Even though the classes were online, we were required to go into the classroom for an introduction. The teachers sat in front of the class reading their syllabi word-for-word and answering questions. Very boring. Thankfully, the remainder of the classes would be from the comfort of home. I didn’t recognize anyone and was honestly expecting a more dramatic shift between high school and college, but everyone looked just as young as me.
After my introduction classes, I bolted to the girls’ bathroom before meeting up with Alissa. I put the seat protector on, sat down and took out my phone to check my emails. There was a picture of Matt and Kelly kissing that had been sent out in a mass email from an unknown address. Written across the top, “Battle of the Boy, who will win? Kelly or Alissa?” Oh, this is so not good. After I washed my hands, I walked as fast as I could to our meeting spot. Alissa was standing there looking at her watch, probably a little irritated I was running late.
“I had to go to the bathroom,” I said by way of an apology, a little short of breath from how quickly I’d been moving.
“It's fine, but we're going to have to eat a little faster.” I stopped her before she walked into the college cafe. I really didn't want to tell her about the picture, but I didn't want her to find out any other way.
“There's something you should know.” She shifted her new designer backpack to the other shoulder, waiting for me to finish. “I checked my email and there was…”
“I got the email, too,” she interrupted. “Kelly is the other woman, not me.” Alissa adjusted herself and walked into the café as confident as she ever was. I followed behind, not wanting to look at anyone.
This isn’t high school, Kat, get a grip.
The drink and pastry selection mirrored every other coffee house I’d ever been to. I’d hoped for some food not consisting of mostly sugar, but we didn’t have enough time to leave campus. I picked a table close to the window and placed my notebook on the floor under my chair. Alissa passed me a handful of napkins as she took her seat. She knew I would need more than one even though I was only eating a blueberry muffin.
“I was thinking, maybe this Friday I could go with you to the meeting?”
Alissa looked up at me, shock written all over her face. “Really? Even after what happened the last time you went there?”
“It's not like
be there, and I'm really curious about what you guys do.” I was more curious about Scott but I didn't say that. I’d noticed even before Matt had cheated that Alissa was overly attentive to Scott, the owner of the gym and leader of the L.S.A.B. group. I’d even caught her texting him, but she hadn’t yet opened up how she felt about him.
“Absolutely. That would be great. Scott is kicking Matt out after what happened.” She looked down at her food with an expression I couldn’t read.
“Has Matt tried to call you or anything? Does he even know about the pictures?”
“Oh, I'm sure he knows by now, but I've been ignoring his calls.” She threw her fork down and pushed her plate with half a cinnamon roll towards me. “I told my mom what happened, so she knows if he shows up at the house, not to let him in.”
“Friday after the meeting, maybe you could come spend the night? My mom has to work the night shift this weekend,” I asked, trying to cheer her up.
She smiled and said, “Sounds great. I’ll see you later, babe.”
“Babe?” I asked with a giggle.
“We’re in college now and need to sound more sophisticated, right?” She winked before walking away.
I stuffed the remainder of her cinnamon roll into my mouth before grabbing my things and putting the empty plates on the counter. Just one more class introduction to survive before I could head home.
Ramen noodles had always been my version of an easy dinner. Especially once I’d figured out how to microwave them and add a little butter for flavoring. I didn't like to eat a heavy meal before I went out, and I didn't want to throw up from nerves. Even though Alissa would be with me, my stress level was still through the roof.
We entered the gym through the back door, just as we had for the party. Being back hadn't brought back any memories or weird feelings like my counselor had mentioned. I really think she didn't know what she was talking about. Everything looked different, of course. Instead of a winter wonderland, it looked like a plain room with chairs, an ugly beige carpet and lots of people standing around talking.
“You know, this is the first meeting I've been to without Matt.” Alissa looked a little lost, as if she wasn't sure what to do with herself.
“Well, let's just say hi to some of your friends, find a seat, and figure it out from there.”
“I don't really have any friends here. I stayed with Matt and I never really talked to anyone other than him or Scott.” We grabbed a couple of chairs and sat towards the back where we had a good view of everyone. I didn't feel comfortable with anyone sitting behind me.
“How did you plan and organize the party without making friends?” I asked, unable to leash my sarcasm. I found it hard to believe she didn't talk to anyone else.
“I left lists and communicated through email. You know how I am, I'm not the friendly type,” she snapped. Alissa could be friendly when she wanted to be, but just like me, she found it hard warming up to anyone outside our two-person group.
I looked around the room hoping I would recognize someone. There were a couple of kids from our old high school, but I didn't think I’d ever said one word to them. I assumed everyone else was from around the district.
“I'm really sorry to hear about what happened with Matt.” Alissa and I looked to our right and saw a familiar face pulling up a chair right next to me.
“Mary, right? I haven't seen you since before prom last year at the dress store,” Alissa said.
“I've come to a couple of meetings but never wanted to interrupt your time with Matt. You two always looked like you were deep in conversation.”
“Wow, well, I feel like a snob. I'm sorry I didn't notice, but I’m glad you came over to say hello tonight.” We made small talk with Mary until Scott jumped on stage and started talking. He didn't need a microphone because his voice carried loud enough for everyone in the room to hear above their own conversations.
“Please, everyone, take a seat so we can get started.” He waited a few moments so everyone could sit. “I was made aware that there would be a few new faces here tonight, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for some of us to get up here and share our stories instead of planning an actual speech. I've arranged for a couple of people to start us out, but please feel free to take turns coming up to share why you decided to join our group. Let's start with—” He paused when he saw an upraised hand. “—Brian.”
Everyone clapped as the guy walked up on stage.
I wanted to cry by the time Brian was done telling his story, unsure if I could handle hearing anyone else’s experiences after his. Brian had come out a couple of years back and when someone at his school planted video cameras in the boys’ locker room, several of the jocks had immediately blamed Brian. They’d taken him out onto the football field and stripped him of all his clothes, leaving him out in the Upstate New York cold, completely naked. The guys had only been suspended a week for their actions.