I push him away. "You, Caleb Becker, are one big jerk."

"I don't get you," he says, his hands in the air and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "I admitted I couldn't be with another girl because I was thinking of you. I want you, Maggie. Is that so wrong?"


"What, admitting you turn me on? Why are you treating it as if it's an insult?"

"I don't want us to just `want' each other." I take a deep breath. "I want a real relationship with a guy. Love. And you, you don't even know what love is. Love is honesty. Love is a mutual respect for one another, something you and I don't have."

"Oh, really?" My words obviously make him pissed, because he stands up and fires back, "So you're saying you have no respect for me?"

"Yeah, that's what I'm saying."

"Fine," he says.

"Fine," I say.

"I guess I pegged this thing going on between us all wrong, then."

This time the sharp pain strikes my heart, but I stay strong. "It's all about honesty, Caleb."

"Yeah, well, honestly you're being ridiculous."



"m lying in bed staring at the ceiling. Lenny and Matt are asleep. I haven't talked to or heard from Maggie since we both stormed to our rooms four hours ago.

I told her I still want her. Admitted that I never stopped wanting her. And she goes and starts talking about love. Fucking love. And honesty.

Love isn't about honesty. It's about protecting the people you love from things that will hurt them. That's love.

Oh, hell. I told Maggie I still want her and we should give in to our lust for each other. Stupid, I know. I didn't mean to blurt it out then and there-it just happened. Maybe it was the beer. Yeah, right. I'm still buzzed, but I knew what I was doing. Doesn't make it any less stupid, though.

For the next week, Maggie practically ignores me. We travel each day to some event where Damon introduces us and urges us to share our sob stories. All of us share. My story is the shortest. "I drove drunk and hit a girl. Went to jail for it. I was practically kicked out of my parents' house and lost my girlfriend. I got my license suspended for three years and I'm pretty much living on the streets now. So, um, don't drink and drive."

Yep, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

It's not until we're on a panel at some random high school auditorium sitting behind a table when I get asked a question I'm not sure how to answer.

It comes out of the mouth of a fifteen-year-old kid in a summer school driver's ed class. "This question is for the guy in the blue T-shirt on the end," he says.

I look at everyone else. Unfortunately nobody but me is wearing a blue shirt. Erin passes the microphone to me. "What's your question?" I ask lazily, my voice echoing through the auditorium.

"Why did your parents kick you out?"

Shit, do I really have to answer that? My sister refused to tell the truth about the accident, my mom is addicted to prescription drugs, and my dad is in denial. "That's a good question," I say, stalling. I don't know what to say. The truth and the lies are starting to melt together as I clear my throat and think of how to answer. "My parents were embarrassed to have an ex-con as a kid. On top of that, they weren't too keen on the fact that I was fooling around with the girl I went to jail for hitting with my car."

"Why'd you do that?" the kid asks. "I mean, why fool around with the girl you hit? Wasn't that a bad idea?"

"Yeah. It was a really bad idea. One of the stupidest ideas I've ever had. Next question?"

The next question is for Lenny. They want to know why he drove a car into the lake.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Lenny says. "Of course I was drunk, but that's no excuse. I paid a big price and I wish I could do it over."

That seems to be the theme of our lives ... wishing we could turn back time and make different choices.

During the van drive back to Freeman, Maggie won't even look in my direction. She sits next to Matt and chats with him about tennis. When we're back at our dorm, she heads straight for her room. Damon heads for his room, too. When his door closes and the rest of the group is in the lounge area, I step into Maggie's room.

"What's your problem?" I ask softly so the rest of the group can't hear.

"I don't want to talk about it," she says, then starts to move away from me.

I grab her wrist and tug gently, urging her to face me.

"Get your hand off her," Matt says from behind me.

I glare at the guy who obviously wants Maggie to be more than a friend. "What are you, her bodyguard?"

"Maybe." Matt steps between me and Maggie.

"Don't get in the middle of this, man." I'm all tense because, well, once I was Maggie's protector against this asshole Vic Medonia, and now Matt's making me feel like I'm no better than Vic.

"She obviously doesn't want to talk to you right now."

When I look over at Maggie, she's pointing toward the door for me to get out.

"I'm done," I tell her.

In the morning, when Damon shakes me awake, I tell him I'm taking the day off.

"Caleb, get your butt up. You're not getting out of today's activities, so don't even think about it," Damon says.

"I'm sick," I say.

"With what?"

"Annoyance. Seriously, Damon, Lenny's cell phone went off every couple of hours last night."

"He's telling the truth," Matt says as he pulls a tank over his head. "We kept telling him to turn the damn thing off, but he wouldn't."

"I turned it to vibrate!" Lenny calls out from the lounge.

Matt walks to the door and yells out, "Having it vibrate on the desk is as bad as having it ring, dude."

Damon leans down and pulls the covers off me. "I'll confiscate Lenny's phone tonight, but you're still joining us today, Caleb. I have a special activity planned. No excuses.

I drag myself out of bed, shower, and get dressed. I think Maggie has the girls on her side, because they're all ignoring me today. Even during breakfast, Trish offers everyone a blueberry muffin except for me and Lenny. How I got to be lumped in the same category as a fucking tool like Lenny is beyond me. On the other hand, Saint Matt is treated like a damn king. Not only does he get a muffin, but Maggie actually pours him a glass of orange juice from the small fridge. And smiles at him as she places the glass in front of him.

I'm even more annoyed now.

After breakfast, we all pile into the van. I'm stuck sitting in the very back with Lenny, who doesn't seem to mind or care that the girls are ignoring him. Or maybe the guy is just used to people ignoring him, or is too stupid to realize it.

Damon pulls up to a wooded property with a big sign that reads VICTORY BOUND-BUILDING STRONG FOUNDATIONS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS.

"Is this a Habitat for Humanity project?" I ask. To be honest, I wouldn't mind getting a hammer and nails in my hands. I used to work construction for my uncle during the summers. Getting my frustration out on a nail and a two-by-four sounds like a sweet idea right about now.

"No, it's nothing like that," Damon says, to my disappointment.

We pile out of the van and Damon tells us we're having a meeting. "This is a skill-building camp. I've noticed that many of you have issues with asking people for help and trusting others."

"Maybe we like it that way," I murmur.

"Not a good way to live, Caleb. It's human nature to need people and to live in harmony with others. You need this ... and I'm not just talking about Caleb." He points to everyone else in the group. "You all need this."

A guy comes out of the door marked Ofce. He looks like a mountain man or Bigfoot come to life, complete with a long beard and unruly hair. "You must be the Re-START group." He holds out his hand to Damon and they shake. "I'm Dex, the owner of Victory Bound."

The first thing Dex does is have us stand in a circle under some trees. He instructs us to say one word that describes ourselves.

Matt says, "Loyal."

Lenny says, "Funny."

Erin says, "Sad."

Trish says, "Angry."

Maggie says, "Confused."

I don't miss the fact that she's looking directly at me when she says it. Is she confused about us? That's news to me. Maggie pretty much shuts me down every time we get close. She doesn't seem confused at all.

When it's my turn, I say, "Screwed up" because that pretty much sums up who and what I am.

"That doesn't count," Lenny says. "Dex said to say one word that describes you. `Screwed up' is technically two words."

"And `shut up before I kick the shit out of you' is ten words," I say in a warning tone.

Dex/Bigfoot holds his hand up. "No threatening your teammates, Caleb. Victory Bound rules. Apologize," he orders.

Apologize? Is this guy serious? I'd rather eat broken glass then apologize to Lenny.

Damon the Enforcer gives me a level stare. "Come on, Caleb. Spit it out so we can move on."

"Yeah," Trish says, then snorts. "Don't be such a jerk."

I look over at Maggie. "Just do it," she mouths silently.

"Nope." I used to play by the rules, but I haven't done it for so long I've forgotten how.

"Channel your energy into positive actions," Dex says to me.

I stick my hands in my pockets and face Dex. "What if I don't feel positive?"

"Doing something positive will help turn your mood around. When you smile, your body relaxes. When you experience positive human touch and interaction, it eases tension in your body."

The last time I had positive human touch was with Maggie when she kissed me and touched me on the couch in our suite. It felt amazing until she pushed me away.

"I want to see you two hug," Dex says.

"You're kiddin' me, right?"

"I'm not kidding. I think you should hug Lenny."

I don't move my hands out of my pockets. "Yeah, umm, I don't think so." I want to say no fucking way to Bigfoot, but hold back.

Lenny opens his arms out wide and smiles at me. "Come to Papa."

"Come on, Caleb," Damon urges. "Just try it."

"I'd rather hug one of the girls, Damon. Or Matt, for that matter."

Nobody seems to care about listening to the list of things I'd rather do than hug Lenny. They're all just waiting for me to cave.

Lenny steps forward, his arms still open.

I step out of the circle, an obvious outsider. Bigfoot doesn't seem pleased. "It's not about the hug ... it's about your character. Doing something you don't want to do to please someone else is an act of kindness."

I give a short laugh. "Listen, Dex, I'm being kind by warning Lenny before I kick his ass. Give me some credit. Shit, man. I hung out with gang members in Chicago who thought kindness was asking what limb you wanted cut off before they chopped you into pieces and fed you to dogs."

"Do you want to be a part of this group, or not?" Bigfoot asks, ignoring my gang scenario.


"He has no choice," Damon bellows loudly. "He's part of this group whether he likes it or not. Right, Caleb?"

"Right," I say. Unless I ditch them all and take my chances. But I won't, because if juvie sucked, I've got a feeling the big-time jail will put me over the edge. I step back into the circle.