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“I didn’t realize that.”

“Yeah. There’s another school that most of us went to before this one, starting in fifth grade. So if we seem aloof, that’s part of it, you know?”

“Yeah, but shouldn’t knowing one another that long make it easier for all of you to get along and not harder?”

“It should. And for a while, even, it did. I don’t know how to explain why things went bad, except to say that some awful stuff happened about a year ago and things got completely out of hand. I mean, on the surface it looks like everything’s fine, but once you dig a little, the damage is all right there. And part of what happened makes it nearly impossible for Jaxon and Flint to be on the same side of…anything.”

It’s pretty much the vaguest explanation anyone has ever given me about anything. And still it has me thinking, trying to piece together the very few things I’ve learned since I’ve been here. “Is this about what happened to Hudson Vega?”

The question is out before I can think twice about it, and judging from the look on Macy’s face, I definitely should have thought twice. “What do you know about Hudson?” she whispers so quietly that it feels like she’s scared to say his name out loud.

“Lia told me that her boyfriend died, remember? But then Jaxon mentioned his brother, and I put two and two together after I saw them arguing.”

“Did Jaxon tell you Hudson was dead?” I don’t think she would look this shocked if I told her I was flying back to San Diego under my own power, and suddenly all kinds of doubts assail me.

“Isn’t he?” If Jaxon was lying to me about something like that, I don’t know what I’ll do. I mean, what kind of person—?

“He is. Yes. It’s just that he doesn’t talk about it much. The whole thing almost destroyed him, and I just couldn’t imagine him discussing it with…” She trails off.

“A total stranger?”

“Yeah.” She looks a little guilty to be admitting it. “Not that you guys are strangers, I guess—”

“Sometimes it’s easier,” I interrupt. “Talking to your best friend about the worst thing that ever happened to you is excruciating. Talking to a stranger who doesn’t have any kind of vested interest…sometimes it doesn’t hurt so much.” It sounds weird, but it’s true. Just one of the things I’ve learned in the last month.

“That makes a strange kind of sense.” She puts the ice cream down and leans over to hug me.

I hug her back for a few seconds—until I feel the tears that are never far from the surface start to well up in my eyes. Then I pull back and give her a grin that says I’m totally fine, even if I’m not. “Maybe that’s why it seems like Jaxon is different with me. Because he knows I’ve lost someone, too.”

“Maybe.” She looks doubtful. “But if the attraction between you and Jaxon is because you’ve both lost someone… Just be careful, okay, Grace? The last thing you want is to become the chew toy in a game of tug-of-war between him and Flint. Because in the end, you’re going to be the one who gets ripped apart.”

I try to ignore her words—and do a pretty good job of it for the rest of the night. But once I’m in bed, with the lights out, I can’t help but think about what Macy said…and how it feels more like a premonition than a warning.

A heaviness creeps into my bones at the thought, pushing me into the bed, weighing me down until the simple act of rolling over and curling into a protective ball feels impossible. I settle for wrapping my arms around my waist and telling myself that she’s wrong. Even as a little voice inside me warns that she’s not.



Are the Way

to a Girl’s Everything

I wake up slowly to the sound of a text coming in. I groan as I think about ignoring it, about staying wrapped up in my covers where it’s warm and comfortable and perfect. But I’ve been slow in responding to Heather’s texts since I got to Alaska, and that’s not cool.

Except when I roll over and grab my phone, I realize two things. One, it’s after ten in the morning, which means I slept right through first period. And two, the text isn’t from Heather.

And it’s not from Macy, either. Instead, it’s from a number I don’t recognize.

Unknown: How is your ankle?

Flint? I wonder as I brush my hair out of my eyes and sit up. Or someone else?

For a moment, Jaxon’s eyes—deep, dark, fathomless—come to mind, but I can’t believe it’s him. Not when he’s been so hot and cold the entire time we’ve known each other. And definitely not when he told me last night that we were going to do things the hard way—whatever that means.

Deciding to play it safe, I text back:

Me: Who is this?

There’s a long pause. Then:

Unknown: Jaxon

It’s only one word, and yet it somehow all but crackles with indignation. Like he can’t imagine that I don’t already have his number in my phone, just waiting for him to finally get around to texting me. I should be annoyed at the assumption, but I’m amused instead. So amused that I can’t help answering:

Me: Jaxon who?

Jaxon: I don’t know the punch line

Me: To what?

Jaxon: Whatever knock-knock joke you’re setting up

I burst out laughing, because he’s funny over text in a way he hasn’t shown me in person.

Me: I’m terrible at knock-knock jokes

Jaxon: Finally some good news

Me: Hey!

Me: How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh?

There’s a long pause, where I can totally imagine his face. Then:

Jaxon: I didn’t realize octopi laughed

Yeah, that’s pretty much the response I expected.

Me: eye roll emoji

Me: Come on. Play along.

Jaxon: I just wanted to know how your ankle was

Me: Take a guess and I’ll tell you

Another long pause.

Jaxon: 17

Me: 17?!?!?!?!?!

Jaxon: Well, it’s obviously not 8 or it wouldn’t be a joke

Jaxon: And I don’t have a clue otherwise, so why not 17?

Me: double eye roll emoji

Me: Let’s try this again

Me: How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh?

This pause is so long that I’ve just about convinced myself that I’ve blown it and he isn’t going to answer. But then:

Jaxon: How many?

I nearly drop my phone in excitement, and I’m grinning so hard that my cheeks hurt. Which is ridiculous, but I’m learning that when it comes to this boy, I’m ridiculous.

Me: Ten-tickles

Jaxon: That’s…actually pretty good

Me: Wow. High praise

Jaxon: Don’t let it go to your head

Me: Believe me, I won’t

Me: Triple eye roll emoji

Jaxon: What do you get when you cross a vampire and a snowman?

What? A joke? From the perennially serious Jaxon Vega? I can’t answer back fast enough.

Me: I have no idea.

Jaxon: Frostbite

I laugh out loud, because who is this Jaxon? And how do I keep him around?

Me: Halloween and Alaska all rolled into one, huh?

Me: Color me impressed

There’s another long pause, but this time something tells me not to give up on Jaxon quite yet. That he isn’t not texting because he’s put down his phone but because he’s trying to figure out what to say next. Which…can you say mind-boggling? I can barely imagine a Jaxon who doesn’t know exactly what to do and say in any situation.

Finally my phone dings again.

Jaxon: You promised to tell me about your ankle

It’s not a great segue from the fun conversation we were just having, but I go with it, because the alternative is not answering, and I don’t want to do that. At least not yet.

Me: I don’t know. I’m just waking up. My uncle must have decided I don’t have to go to class again today.

Jaxon: I’d say lucky you, but…

Me: What, falling out of a tree not lucky enough for you?

Jaxon: Do you KNOW what lucky means?

The laugh hits me so unexpectedly that I nearly snort. Then slap a hand over my mouth in horrified amusement, even though there’s no one around to hear.

Me: I walked away, didn’t I?

Jaxon: eye roll emoji

Jaxon: Pretty sure I carried you away

Me: Oh. Right. Thanks again for that.

Jaxon: All the eye roll emojis

Now that he’s got me thinking about it, I’m curious how my ankle is, too. So I throw back the covers and try to climb out of bed—only to whimper the second I put any weight on my right foot. Well, that answers that. With the added problem that I really have to pee.

Jaxon: What are you going to do today?

Me: I think I’ll lie in bed and feel sorry for myself

Jaxon: Good times

Me: Yeah, well, turns out the ankle hurts a little bit

Jaxon: You ok?

Me: Of course

Me: brb

I use the promise of Advil to propel myself across the room to the bathroom. When I’m done, I wash my hands and grab two of the little round pills and a bottle of water before hobbling back to my bed. I force myself to take the pills before I pick my phone back up again, but it’s hard. I’m dying to know if Jaxon texted me back.

He didn’t. Which is cool, I tell myself. I mean. I’m the one who cut our conversation off so abruptly.

Me: I’m back

No answer.

Me: Sorry that took so long.

Still no answer.

Ugh. I blew it.

I’m pissed at myself for stopping our conversation. And just as angry for being pissed off. Jaxon showed me more of himself in the last fifteen minutes than he has since I got here. What do I have to be annoyed about that he stopped texting?

Absolutely nothing. I mean, the boy does have to go to class, after all.

Somehow, telling myself that only makes everything worse. Well, that and the fact that I’m starving, and the peanut butter is all the way across the room. Of course.