"I like it here with you better."

He shakes his head. "You're crazy, you know that?"


He puts his arm around me. "Go to sleep. I know you're tired."

"What about you?"

"My mind is racing and I won't be able to sleep tonight, so you should."

I nestle into his lap and try to forget why and how we got into this situation. I just keep telling myself that it'll be okay. We'll figure a way to work it out. In the end, I'll make sure Caleb reunites with his family in Paradise. I don't know exactly how I'm going to orchestrate it, but I will.

I have to.

"Are you still mad at me?" I murmur against his thigh.


"What can I do to make you less mad?"

"Stay the hell away from me, Maggie."

"Is that really and truly what you want?" I ask.

"Don't make me answer that question," he says, chuckling cynically.

"Why not?"

"Maggie, I gotta tell you something." I notice that the frown lines on his face are pronounced.


"Being with you was never a mistake." He gives a short laugh. "Hell, being with you kept me sane while I was home. You and Mrs. Reynolds made being in Paradise bearable."

I reach up and stroke his stubble with the tips of my fingers. "Thanks, Caleb. I needed to hear that. I know I'm not ideal, and I'll never be normal-"

"Maggie, don't ever say that, okay?"


"There are no buts. You're here with me, and I don't fucking deserve your time, let alone your support. I lied to you, I deceived you, and I left you. Why you're here with me is beyond my comprehension."

"You know why I'm here," I tell him. "I believe in you.

"Yeah, well that makes one of us." Without another word, he wraps his arms around me and holds me tight. "I'm sorry I lied to you," he whispers.

"I know you are."

Feeling safe with Caleb's arm around me, I let myself relax and get really sleepy.

He brushes stray hairs out of my face. The last thing I remember is Caleb lightly tracing random patterns on my arm, leg, and back. It feels so good I let myself drift to sleep.

He hasn't changed. He's the same boy I fell in love with back in Paradise.

I love you.

The words hover on the tip of my tongue, and I feel my lips frame the syllables, but no sound comes out as my eyelids droop and Caleb gently strokes my hair over and over again.

In the morning, I wake to find him watching me.

"Morning," I say as I stretch. My leg is retaliating from sleeping on the rough wood chips, but I try and hide the pain from him. "Do we have a plan yet?"

"Yeah, I've got a plan," he says. "But you're not gonna like it."



aggie sits up and bites her bottom lip. She's got wood chips stuck in her hair and her eyes are all bloodshot. "Don't you think we should discuss the plan together?"

"No," I say stoically.

"Why not?"

"Because you're not rational."

"I beg your pardon," she says, wood chips falling from her hair with each word. "But I'm the one who actually slept last night. You've had no sleep. I vote that I'm the rational one, and I vote that we discuss this together."

I stand and hold out my hand to her. "You've never been rational. And before you go begging my pardon again, you were the one who ran off with me in the middle of the night with just a backpack full of stuff."

She takes my hand and lets me help her up. I can tell she's not steady, so I hold her by the waist and support her while her body adjusts.

When she's steady, I let her go. She folds her arms on her chest and puts that straight, aristocratic nose of hers in the air. There isn't a lot of space in this castle, so our bodies brush against each other. "That wasn't irrational. Leaving with you was a calculated risk."

"Calculated?" I ask, skepticism lacing my voice.

"Just forget it." She picks up her backpack and grabs my hand for support as she maneuvers out of the castle. It's early but there are already a few moms with their kids on the playground. They give us dirty looks, as though we were caught fooling around inside the castle's walls.

"So what's this plan you have that I'm not going to like?"

"I'll tell you later," I say.

"You're just stalling the inevitable."

"I know. I'm good at that."

I can tell Maggie's leg is stiff by the way she's walking slowly and tentatively stepping on her left foot. Man, I wish I could take the pain myself. It sucks knowing she'll always have that limp.

Anger at what my sister did to Maggie rushes through me. If it weren't for Leah's irresponsible choice of getting into that car when she'd been drinking, maybe she wouldn't have swerved so much when that squirrel jumped in front of her and Maggie wouldn't have been hit.

I can play the "what if" game forever, but it won't change the fact that Maggie is the one who'll always have the physical repercussions of that night. Nothing I do or say will ever change that.

"Do you need to sit down?" I ask, silently kicking myself because I've put her in this situation.

"I'm okay. Walking usually helps lessen the cramping."

I take her backpack and sling my own duffle over my shoulder. I shake my head as I watch her struggle.

She stops and puts her hand on her hip. "Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like you blame yourself. We both know ... well, actually, now everyone at Re-START knows, that it's not your fault at all even though you've been paying for it for almost two years." Her eyes take on this look of pity, which doesn't sit well in my gut. "Just point me to the nearest place I can go to the bathroom and get some breakfast. I'm starving. I've got about two hundred dollars to spend before we have to beg for money."

Her words slice right through me. "You're not begging for money. Ever. Got it? I've got about twenty bucks. After that, I'll figure something out." Just the picture in my head of her having to beg for anything makes my skin crawl.

"I was kidding," she says, surprising me with a grin. "I'm not the begging type."

"Sorry," I say. Sorry for overreacting. Sorry for putting her in this situation. Sorry for every fucking thing.

We walk a couple of blocks until we get to Pete's Place, a little diner which should probably be condemned by the look of the grease-and-mildew-stained ceiling tiles, but they've got a free bathroom and dirt cheap food, and that's what we need. After we get seated in a booth and Maggie heads for the bathroom, I sit back and think about how I'm going to break the news of my plan to her.

I look around at the two other occupied tables. A guy with a ripped flannel shirt is sipping a cup of coffee by the counter. An old guy is eating alone in another booth, looking out the window as he takes one slow bite of his bread after another. I wonder what he's looking at or waiting for ... or if staring out the window is better than remembering that he's alone at a diner eating by himself. Or maybe he's not really looking out the window. Maybe he's daydreaming about some girl he loved and lost.

I don't want to end up like either of those guys-alone and pathetic.

When Maggie comes back, her ponytail is gone. She doesn't look like she slept on a bed of wood chips anymore. She slides into the booth opposite me. I reach across the table and take both her hands in mine. The fact that she was willing to walk away with me last night with just a backpack humbles me.

"Maggie..." I get a lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit. I don't want to say it, but dammit, it has to be said. "I'm taking you back." Her eyes grow big and she opens her mouth I'm sure to protest, but I add, "Do you know what it does to me every time I see you wince in pain?"

She pulls her hands away and lays them in her lap. "I'm fine."

"Stop pretending. I thought we weren't gonna lie to each other anymore."

I watch as she bites her bottom lip. "Okay, I'm lying. But I don't care if I've got a little discomfort or pain." She looks up at me and tilts her head. I can tell the wheels are turning and she's thinking too much. She hesitates at first, but then blurts out, "Have you ever told a girl you loved her? Not like your mom, but like-"

"You mean Kendra."

"Yeah. I mean Kendra."

That's a loaded question. Kendra told me on our first date that she was in love with me. It didn't take long before we were a couple and were making out ... and not long after that we had sex. Lots of it. She spouted the word "love" as if it was water. I don't think I've heard or said the word "love" since I was arrested.

I did tell Kendra I loved her, but I'm not even sure I knew what it meant at the time.

"Why do you want to know?"

She shrugs. "I just do. You've never said it..."

She doesn't finish her sentence, but I know what she was going to say. I don't want to go there. Not now ... but after what she's done for me, I can't totally avoid the subject. She deserves that much.

"I don't say it to anyone, which is why you're going back to Re-START. I can't let you come with me. It's not safe and you don't deserve this. You're going to Spain, like you've always wanted. If I said the L-word, it would change everything. I know you, Maggie. You'd feel obligated to stay here and ditch your plans. I'd feel like shit for making you change your life for me ... it's not worth it."

I'm not worth it.

The waitress brings the eggs and toast we ordered then disappears just as quickly as she appeared.

Maggie smiles sheepishly from across the table as she picks up her fork. "So come to Spain with me. I'm registered to be an exchange student for my freshman year. It's only for nine months."

"You know I can't. What am I gonna do there, sit and watch you study? I didn't even graduate high school and I hardly know a lick of Spanish."

"You could get a GED and apply."

I shake my head. As if that's even an option at this point. I'm a lost cause with a pathetically bleak future, and hardly a penny to my name. "Oh, sure, then we could get married and live happily ever after if you'll hop on my flying carpet and rub the genie lamp I have in my duffle. Maybe we could buy a Spanish castle while we're at it."

When my dad married my mom, he was going to school to be a dentist and she was president of the ladies' auxiliary. Everything in their lives was strategically planned, up until the day I got arrested and went to jail. "My mom would shit if she heard this conversation."

"I was going to tell you this earlier, but I didn't know how. Caleb, your mom was in rehab when I left Paradise."

My entire body tenses. "I don't want to talk about her. I don't want to talk about my family at all."

A bell over the diner door makes me look to see what other misfit is about to patronize Pete's Place. A big black guy comes walking toward us.


I'm busted.

I shake my head in frustration and look over at her. "You didn't."

"I did." She holds up her cell phone. "I suspected you were about to run off and ditch me."

I can't fucking believe this. "You sold me out. What happened to your desperate plea to make decisions together?"