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I’ve tucked things about me so far deep I had forgotten they were even there. That I used to be a giver, and I loved to take care of Paul. That I really liked being home—in all the homes I’ve had. That I worry too much about my friends because I don’t want them to be hurt.

But see, that’s the thing. How far will I let these things, things people did to me and then went about their lives like normal, affect my life? Even today, Paul hurts me. His betrayal hurts me.

He hurts my belief in men, my ability to connect with one.

I’ve reserved the good things about me for those who live inside the wall with me, and the rest has been kept from the world—because I don’t want to be judged, or because I don’t think I’ll be understood, or I simply don’t want those pieces to be abused by someone else.

I’m such a coward, and that’s the truth.

Afraid to just be myself.

Afraid to trust, to love, to give myself another chance.

But I find myself reaching out to this guy, I find myself constantly drawn to this guy. “So what’s your secret, T-Rex?”

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret,” he says with a wink.

He glances at my mouth, then at a spot past my shoulder, as if he’s been drawn back into some bleak memory. “Besides, it’s in the past. No sense in wasting time with it when there’s nothing you can change. Is there?”

“Absolutely,” I agree.

His eyes trap mine again, and I want to say something snarky. But he looks raw, and I can’t.

“Thank you,” I finally say. “I was not very happy when I heard you were coming over, but when I saw you, I felt so relieved. Thank you.”

He looks at me with a half-smile and devil eyes. “For destroying his letter?”

“Yes. I feel…better.”

He’s thoughtful in the silence that settles between us. It’s so easy with you, I think. So easy and also so exciting with you.

“Any other letters from any club or non-club members we must destroy?” He narrows his eyes threateningly as he looks at me.

“No!” I laugh and shove both my hands in my pockets to warm them.

He laughs too, and when we stop laughing, our eyes meet, and I feel myself heat up so hard and so fast that I need to drop my gaze.

He remains studying me in silence. “So only Paul. Who was the founding member? Let’s talk about him for a second.”

“Roderick? Not Roderick! Or Vince…no, not him. They were both just…part of growing up.”

“Paul? Part of growing up too?”

“I guess. And you? All your flings?” I nudge him.

He nudges me back. “What about them?”

“Well, were they part of growing up?”

“They’re part of what’s become my life, I guess.”

“And what is this life? Is it everything you wanted? More?”

He pokes the tip of my nose with a fingertip. “I actually didn’t plan this life for myself.”

I wrinkle my nose and pretend I’m going to bite his finger when he removes it. “Really. What was it then? An accident?”

He laughs and scrapes his hand across his bearded jaw. “Yeah.”

I feel warm under his regard; it sends my pulse spinning.

“How was the one you planned? Better?” I’m starting to get confused, and I think it shows on my face.

“Yeah, better.” He stares away. “Different.”

“How different?”

“I didn’t plan to leave home, for starters.”

“Why did you?”

“It was tough to stay. Is yours what you pictured it to be?”

“Nope. But do you ever think of correcting paths?”

“Nah. There are no what ifs for me. What was was, and what is is.”

“I do. I think back to what I wanted before him, who I was before I got lost in him, what I wanted, and I want it back. Trent is my do over.”

He looks at me, and something like raw truth shines in his eyes.

“Good for you, Gina.” He reaches out and skims his forefinger over my nose. I shiver.

“What about yours? Your first?”

“Her name’s Lisa.”

“Wow, you remember her name.”

“I actually remember plenty about her.” A muscle twitches along his jaw, and he sets his beer aside and takes my arm. “Come on, let’s take you home.”

“No,” I groan, “not home.”

“Yes. Home. Now.”

“My apartment is so lonely and ominous…so quiet. Take me to Trent’s. I told him I’d be there by midnight, when I was done at my gig.”

He clenches his jaw thoughtfully.

“Come on, take me to Trent’s.” I nudge him.

He just keeps clenching his jaw, grabs the back of my neck and steers me toward his car.

We’re silent on the drive over, and I’m close to dozing in my seat, feeling safe and comfortable and warm.

I groan when I need to stand and walk toward Trent’s building, but I lean on Tahoe for support all the way to the 5th floor. He deposits me right at Trent’s door, and when Trent opens, Tahoe’s drawl is thicker than ever. “Take care of her,” he says, and walks away.

* * *

“I saw my ex today,” I tell Trent as I cross his small apartment and head straight to his bed.

“Oh no. Don’t you just hate that?” He embraces me gently.

“Hate that,” I agree, burying my nose in his throat. All I notice is the fact that he doesn’t smell like pine trees. And that his jaw is so…smooth. So beardless. “His name was Paul. I’m so over him I didn’t want to tell you about it. He cheated on me. You’re not the kind of guy who’d ever do that to a girl you like, are you?”

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