Authors: Malorie Verdant
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2015 Malorie Verdant
Editing by Hot Tree Editing
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STARS is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, place or event is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. Please do not take offense to the content, as it is FICTION. This book is also intended for mature audiences, it contains adult language and sexual content. Trademarks: This book recognizes product names and services known to be trademarks, registered trademarks, or service marks of their respective holders. The publication and use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
To Kirra and Taryn,
who have always believed in me.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.
One Year Ago
Dogs start barking.
Not real dogs. Fake dogs.
Or possibly auto-tuned real dogs.
Okay, so I don’t really know. But some form of fake-possibly-auto-tuned barking is the sound my phone makes when the alarm goes off.
At first, I thought the idea of dogs letting me know the time was super cute. I saw the option, pictured puppies playfully yapping and decided I was going to
this setting. Unfortunately, I can now see that there is absolutely nothing adorable about my small bedroom—with its modest timber bed and posters of Marie Curie on the walls—being filled with the sounds of an angry synthesized Doberman. However, I’ve decided to keep the air-polluting barking, because everyone in close proximity to my phone automatically starts moving away.
“All right, all right, I’m going,” Millie mutters, case in point, as she reaches for her purse and pulls on her pink Converse sneakers.
Millie and I have been best friends since the first grade, after a boisterous little redhead noticed my dad had been overly generous with snacks and decided we should share our lunches. Eleven years later and I love when she lets herself into my house, sprawls across my bed and rambles about her failing love life.
But my alarm going off meant it was nearly
Time for me to panic.
Time for me to pretend I wasn’t turning into the worst version of myself.
Time for me to wrangle my best friend out my front door as quickly as possible.
“I really hate how your dad makes you cook at 10pm every Friday,” she complains as I lead her down the stairs. “I totally think it’s outdated 1950’s behavior. Seriously, what seventeen-year-old should be expected to slave over a hot stove just so her father can come home to a home-cooked meal? It’s cracked. You should at least let me stay and help.”
“Firstly, I like taking care of him. Secondly, you suck in the kitchen,” I remind her, chuckling as she tries to look at me in shock and feign ignorance. “Last time you offered to cook for me you burnt everything, including the garlic bread.”
“I’ll have you know cooking garlic bread is hard and clearly involves more steps than the back of the packet supplies,” she claims before opening the door slowly, stepping onto the porch and reluctantly heading toward her little blue Subaru.
“You’re delusional,” I tease as she finally reaches her pint-sized car. “And make sure you pick up fast-food on your way home!” I call out as she jumps into the driver’s seat and waves her middle finger at me.
I’m still smiling when I close the front door.
That is until I remember it’s
Before I begin to hyperventilate, I quickly run around the house and turn off all the lights.
Once the house appears to be completely empty, I silently creep back up the stairs to my bedroom and peek out the curtains.
Which means the high school football game should be over and any minute now, my hot next-door neighbor
will walk into his bedroom.
Grayson Waters is the starting quarterback for our high school varsity football team. In our small town, that means he’s every girl’s—and a few boys’—fantasy come to life.
Movie-star gorgeous—think Scott Eastwood meets Taylor Kitsch.
Ridiculously talented—he’s been the starting quarterback since his freshman year.
And he walks with an arrogance that somehow makes him appear
Need I say more?
Not only does he live next door, but from my bedroom window I have a perfect view of his entire room and he
has his drapes closed. Tonight, with his light on, I can see his empty double bed with its blue striped comforter, his long wooden desk, thin bookcase and wardrobe.
I get that it’s a little weird—all right, I’ll admit that it’s
weird. Not to mention —
pathetic that I am basically hiding in my own house to spy on my next-door neighbor.
Knowing how pitiful this makes me is exactly why I made up some ridiculous story about my dad finishing night shifts at the hospital and insisting on family dinners. I have
had the courage to tell Millie the truth; that since I was five years old, I have been quietly observing and falling in love with Grayson Waters from my windowsill.
Though in my defense, my silent surveillance started innocently. It was the first day that Dad and I moved into our two-story craftsman home; right after Mom passed away.
I was sitting on my new bed cuddling the last soft toy my mom would ever give me, my baby glasses fogging up with tears, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a little boy dressed up as Spiderman. I laughed the entire time as he threw his arms out, pretending to shoot web strings and single-handedly defeat hundreds of invisible villains.
I was simply fascinated. It was also the first time I was able to smile since Mom sat me on her lap and told me she was sick, and not even Dad’s special powers could fix her. I couldn’t help but watch in reverence the following day as Spiderman attempted to climb his wardrobe with his imagined superhuman strength in a death-defying stunt; or a couple days later when he tried to cut open the resulting arm cast.
He quickly became my very own
. I even observed from the shadows when he was eight, watching him cry during his parents’ fights about his dad cheating. And I silently stared at him looking defeated as his dad packed all his belongings and left. I actually tried to comfort him that day. I just
don’t like to think about it.
It was a blimp in my otherwise stellar stalking career.
After two years of muted viewing, I naïvely thought I had enough courage to introduce myself and help him forget his worries, reimbursing him for all the times he made me smile.
I watched him storm out of his house, slam the back door and stomp his way into the woods. The same woodlands that ran behind all the houses on our street and continued until they reached the small stone creek our hometown was named after.
I grabbed my purple sparkly sneakers with Velcro straps and followed him. I knew that if my dad found out I snuck out of the house, I was going to be in
much trouble. But I was willing to risk it. Any punishment would be worth finally having a chance to talk to him. To make
smile, and be the person
I found Grayson leaning against a pine tree, just staring aimlessly at the water. The bottoms of his jeans were muddy from his hike through the bushes and he didn’t have any shoes on. His dark brown hair flopped over his forehead, hiding his crystal-blue eyes.
I carefully stepped toward him, trying to squint through my glasses that had become a little foggy from my panting breath. My fair skin flushed pink and my wildly curly brown hair, once tied up in a high ponytail, was falling unrestrained over my shoulders.
As I finally approached him, all the adrenaline that coursed through my body during my rush through the woods was gone. I became absolutely terrified about meeting him. The reason I woke up in the morning. The last person I wanted to see before I went to bed. I wiped my sweaty hands on my pale pink shorts and tried to work out what I should do, where to begin. I had practiced what I would say in the mirror a few times for a moment like this, but suddenly I couldn’t remember anything.
“Hi, I-I’m—” I eventually whispered as I tiptoed forward.