Page 5

“How? Who?”

“Over the summer. There was a guy.”

“You never mentioned a guy.” Simon’s curiosity was at an all time high, but I didn’t want to go into any more details of how I’d humiliated myself and fallen for the wrong guy.

“I didn’t think he was worth mentioning.”

He didn’t know what to say after that. Neither did I.

We sat quietly until 5:56 A.M. The rainstorm had passed, and I knew I should head back home before my parents left for work. I’d told them I would watch my little sisters during the day for twenty bucks.

I climbed back out of Simon’s window and thanked him for sitting up with me and not once looking at me with a judgmental stare.

“Are you going to keep it?” Simon whispered.

I shrugged. I hadn’t really put any thought into the fact that I was actually pregnant after I’d peed on four different sticks, and told him the news. “My parents are going to flip out.”

Simon frowned. He knew they were going to freak out about this. Especially Dad. “Well, whatever you need just let me know.”

A sad, small grin took over my lips. There was something so remarkable about best friends. They were always a solid reminder that you were never truly alone.

* * *

I headed back through Mr. Myers’ woods and at the halfway mark I paused and glanced up at the sky. The sun was waking with a yawn, slowly stretching its light across the trees with the burnt leaves that would soon enough fall to the ground.

I wasn’t ready for it to be morning. I wasn’t ready to go home. I wasn’t ready to face the fact that tomorrow was the first day of school and I would be that girl. The girl who was going to start wearing baggy clothes to try to hide a growing stomach. The girl who was going to be noticed not because of her artistic ways, but because of her bad decisions. The girl who was knocked up in high school.

My back leaned against a tree, and I allowed the tang of the morning air to kiss my cheeks.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay.”

A quiet voice made me swiftly turn around. My eyes darted around the woods, searching for the sound. The voice continued speaking, but it was clear that the words weren’t being directed toward me.

“You’re beautiful.”

Those words definitely weren’t created for me. Most of the time when people talked about me they said, “Oh. Aria. You’re so…unique,” or, “You’re too skinny, eat a burger,” or, “What the hell did you do to your hair this time?!”

A few feet away a guy was kneeling in front of a deer. The deer’s eyes were wide, alarmed, but he wasn’t terrified enough to run. I’d never seen the guy before, but he appeared about my age. I knew everyone in Mayfair Heights by first and last name—even if they never noticed me—so it was strange that his face was unfamiliar to me. He had chocolate-colored hair that was hidden under a baseball cap, and a slight shadow of a beard. He wore a sapphire T-shirt with faded jeans, and loosely tied blue Chucks.

In his hand were berries, which he held out toward the deer.

“You’re gonna love these,” he promised. Each time he spoke I noticed the accent attached to the words. He wasn’t from around here—that was for certain. There was this southern drawl that showed up at the end of each of his sentences; it was soothing.

The deer stepped forward, moving in closer to him. Anticipation overtook me, hoping the deer would connect with the stranger.

Do people feed deer? Is that a thing?

A part of me wanted to look away from him, but another part really wanted to keep staring. My left foot moved backward, snapping a branch, and my right foot hit another, causing me to fall backward onto my butt. The deer became startled and ran off in the opposite direction.

“Shoot!” he hissed, tossing the berries to the ground before brushing his hands against his jeans. A short chuckle left him. “Almost.”

I bit my lip and moved around, making more noise on the branches. He turned my way, looking as startled as the deer. First he was confused by my entire existence, and then pleased.

His brown eyes smiled before his lips followed in the kindness.

Clearing my throat, I gave him an apologetic frown.

Taking a few steps my way, his gaze searched my face. He waited for me to say something, but I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent. His hand reached out toward me, but I refused it, pushing myself up from the ground. He kept smiling as I brushed away the wet leaves and branches from the bottom of my bum.

“You all right?” he questioned.

I nodded mutely.

His smile didn’t falter. I wondered if he knew how to not smile. “All right then,” he said. “See ya later.” He headed toward the tree house and started climbing the steps. Once he reached the top, the mystery guy disappeared inside, out of my viewpoint. I looked left, right, up, and down, glancing around at the quiet trees, wondering if he had even really existed. Yet I knew he had to be real, because the pile of berries still lay against the dampened grass.

3 Aria

There wasn’t a Sunday dinner when my family didn’t all eat together. Most of the time during the week Mom and Dad worked different shifts, so everyone eating together wasn’t all that common. Except for Sundays; Sundays we always ate together at our dining table because my parents thought it was important to catch up on life over a homemade meal at least once a week.

Mom passed the bowl of crescent rolls around. “Oh! There’s news! Aria, Mr. Harper called about the art show you signed up for a few months ago. He said your work is going to be highlighted as the featured piece in the art museum. It all sounds like a very big deal.” Mom’s voice was soaked in pride and wrapped in golden approval. She never minded that I was more into the creative world than the medical world she lived in. She was one of those parents who believed their children should be their own people.