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She doesn’t have to worry about my trying to escape now that she’s in my lap. That won’t happen.

Her chest is directly in front of me, and even though her button-up shirt isn’t at all revealing, the fact that I’m this close to such an intimate part of her has me glued to my seat. I gently lift my hands to her waist to keep her steady.

When I touch her, she pauses what she’s doing and looks down at me. Neither of us speaks, but I know she feels it. I’m too close to her chest not to notice her reaction. Her breath halts right along with mine.

She looks away nervously as soon as we make eye contact and she begins snipping at my hair. I can honestly say I’ve never had my hair cut quite like this before. They aren’t as accommodating at the barbershop.

I can feel the scissors sawing through my hair and she huffs. “Your hair is really thick, Owen.” She says it like it’s my fault and it’s irritating her.

“Aren’t you supposed to wet it first?”

Her hands pause in my hair as soon as I ask her that question. She relaxes and lowers herself until her thighs meet her calves. We’re eye to eye now. My hands are still on her waist and she’s still on my lap and I’m still thoroughly enjoying the position of this spontaneous haircut, but I can see from the sudden trembling of her bottom lip that I’m the only one enjoying it.

Her arms fall limply to her sides and she drops the scissors and the comb on the floor. I can see the tears forming and I don’t know what to do to stop them, since I’m not sure what started them.

“I forgot to wet it,” she says with a defeated pout. She begins to shake her head back and forth. “I’m the worst hairdresser in the whole world, Owen.”

And now she’s crying. She brings her hands up to her face, attempting to cover her tears, or her embarrassment, or both. I lean forward and pull her hands away. “Auburn.”

She won’t open her eyes to look at me. She keeps her head tucked down and she shakes it, refusing to answer me.

“Auburn,” I say again, this time raising my hands to her cheeks. I hold her face in my hands, and I’m mesmerized by how soft she feels. Like a combination of silk and satin and sin, pressing against my palms.

God, I hate that I’ve already fucked this up so bad. I hate that I don’t know how to fix it.

I pull her toward me and surprisingly, she lets me. Her arms are still at her sides, but her face is buried against my neck now, and why did I fuck this up, Auburn?

I brush my hand over the back of her head and move my lips to her ear. I need her to forgive me, but I don’t know if she can do that without an explanation. The only problem is, I’m the one who reads the confessions. I’m not used to writing them and I’m certainly not used to speaking them. But I still need her to know that I wish things were different right now. I wish things would have been different three weeks ago.

I hold on to her tightly so that she’ll feel the sincerity in my words. “I’m sorry I didn’t show up.”

She immediately stiffens in my arms, as if my apology sobered her up. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I watch closely as she slowly lifts herself away from me. I wait for a response, or more of a reaction from her, but she’s so guarded.

I don’t blame her. She doesn’t owe me anything.

She turns her head to the left in an effort to remove my hand from around the back of her head. I pull it away and she grips the arms of the chair and pushes herself out of it.

“Did you get my confession, Owen?”

Her voice is firm, void of the tears that were consuming her a few moments ago. When she stands, she wipes her eyes with her fingers.

“Yes.”

She nods, pressing her lips together. She glances at her purse and grabs both it and her keys.

“That’s good.” She begins walking toward the door. I slowly stand, afraid to look in the mirror at the unfinished haircut she’s just given me. Luckily, she switches the lights off before I have the chance to see it.

“I’m going home,” she says, holding the door open. “I don’t feel so well.”

CHAPTER NINE

Auburn

I have four younger siblings ranging in age from six to twelve years old. My parents had me when they were still in high school and waited several years before having more kids. Neither of my parents went to college and my father works for a manufacturing company, where he’s been since he was eighteen. Because of this, we grew up on a budget. A very strict budget. A budget that didn’t allow for air conditioners to be turned on at night. “That’s what windows are for,” my father used to say if anyone complained.

I may have adopted his penny-pinching habit, but it hasn’t really been an issue since moving in with Emory. She was on the verge of being evicted after her old roommate stuck her with half of the lease, so things like air-conditioning aren’t considered necessities. They’re considered luxuries.

This was fine when I lived back in Portland, but having lived in the bipolar weather of Texas for an entire month, I’ve had to adjust my sleeping habits. Instead of using a comforter, I sleep with layers of sheets. That way, if it gets too hot in the middle of the night, I can just push one or two of the sheets off the bed.

With all that considered, why am I so cold right now? And why am I wrapped up in what feels like a down comforter? Every time I try to open my eyes and wake up to find answers to my own questions, I go right back to sleep, because I’ve never been this comfortable. I feel like I’m a little cherub angel sleeping peacefully on a cloud.

Wait. I shouldn’t feel like an angel. Am I dead?

I sit straight up in the bed and open my eyes, I’m too confused and scared to move, so I keep my head completely still and slowly move my eyes around the room. I see the kitchen, the bathroom door, the stairwell leading down to the studio.

I’m in Owen’s apartment.

Why?

I’m in Owen’s big, comfortable bed.

Why?

I immediately turn and look down at the bed, but Owen isn’t in it, thank God. The next thing I do is check my clothes. I’m still fully dressed, thank God.

Think, think, think.

Why are you here, Auburn? Why does your head feel like someone used it as a trampoline all night?

It comes back to me, slowly. First, I remember being stood up. Bitch. I remember Harrison. I remember running to the bathroom after he betrayed me by calling Owen. I hate Harrison. I also remember being at the salon and . . . Oh, God. Really, Auburn?

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