I ignore her and load my groceries onto the belt.

“I think I love tonight,” Shep comments.

Before I think twice, I launch whatever’s in my hand at him, and he barks out a laugh, catching it with ease.

Stupid freakin’ baseball reflexes.

“Ah, this explains why you’re extra grouchy tonight.”

I take a look at the box I launched and, yep, just my luck—I’ve thrown my tampons at him.

Awesome.

“I wish they would have smacked you right in the eye—with the corner of the box, to be specific.”

“Now that,” he says, tossing the feminine products into the air and catching them without looking, “is rude as hell, Andrews.”

“I hate you, Shepard Clark,” I repeat with as much venom as I can muster.

Cue famous grin. “You only wish you did.”

The worst part?

He’s right.

“How? How is this my life tonight? First, I run out of tampons, then I run into the king of assholes. Next, I accidentally ram my cart into an old lady, fork over sixty bucks I was not expecting to spend in order to remedy that situation, and now I have a flat tire. Great. Just great.”

I toss my head back on a groan and stare up at the night sky.

“What in the hell is your problem, universe? Huh?”

No response.

I raise a hand and flip her the bird.

“Well, screw you too then!”

“I always did have you pegged as a little crazy. Glad I wasn’t wrong.”

Shep’s footsteps echo across the otherwise quiet parking lot as he comes to stand next to me, staring down at my flat tire.

“King of assholes, huh?”

“It’s fitting.”

“You’re not wrong.”

I raise a brow, surprised he agreed so easily.

I peek at him out of the corner of my eye, watching as he stares down at the ground.

Shep is insanely attractive—even I can’t deny that—but it was never his looks that drew me to him. That would have been impossible, anyway, since we only communicated via text message at first.

Tonight, he’s dressed simply, his long legs clad in dark jeans. A white t-shirt covers his broad, muscled shoulders, and he’s even wearing a black pair of those old man shoes that seem to be a thing these days.

His hair is perfectly messy, the black locks pushed around in an artful yet effortless way. His hazel eyes are shrouded in shadows, and not just because of the dark and dingy parking lot we’re standing in.

There’s something on Shep’s mind, and I’m certain it has to do with that article.

A part of me wants to ask him about it because, being a journalist, I’m a naturally curious person. More so, though—as much as I hate to admit it—I want to ask him because of the Shep I used to know.

Thing is, he hasn’t been that person in a long damn time.

“You have a spare?” he finally says.

“In the trunk.”

“Want me to help you?”

His words surprise me so much all I can do is stare at him.

He lets out a bitter laugh. “Quit acting so fucking surprised, Den. I’m not a monster.”

“Could have fooled me.”

He snorts. “Okay, fine. I deserve that, but final offer—you want my help or not?”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to say yes because I’m tired and bloated and I just want to go home and eat my now melting ice cream, but this is Shep I’m talking to here. I cannot let him in again, not even a little bit.

The pain that came with that mistake last time was enough to set my heart on fire for years.

I’ll pass.

“No.”

He stands there, not moving, eyes hard.

“I’m not some helpless little girl, Clark. I can change a tire by myself.”

He looks around the lot one more time—for what, I don’t know—before giving me a nod. “Suit yourself then. Good night, Denver.”

“Night,” I mutter as he turns on his heel and walks in the opposite direction.

Letting out a huff in a mixture of relief and irritation, I dig my keys from my purse and unlock the doors to my hatchback. I toss my bags into the passenger seat, roll up the sleeves of my sweater, and pop open my trunk.

I push aside all the miscellaneous crap I have back here, namely those reusable bags I always forget to take into the store, and pull up the compartment to grab my tire.

“What the shit, universe! Are you messing with me right now?”

There’s a giant nail poking out of the spare.

Of course there is.

I hear tires approach, but I don’t turn around.

I don’t have to; I know it’s him.

“Want a ride?”

I slam my trunk closed, not taking a single moment to second-guess myself before saying, “Yes.”

Three

Six years ago, early September

Unknown: MAYDAY, MAYDAY. We have a MAJOR problem.

Denver: ???

Denver: Who is this?

Unknown: Shepard Clark, a friend of AJ Sutton.

Denver: How did you get this number?

Unknown: AJ, obviously.

Denver: He just gave my number to some random creep? I’m going to murder him.

Denver: Go the hell away.

Unknown: I would but…this is important.

Unknown: You’re Denver Andrews, right? Best friends with Allie Hanson?

Denver: …yes?

Denver: How do you know all that?

Unknown: I told you—AJ.

Unknown: He’s my Allie.

Denver: So he’s your best friend? Why don’t you just say that?

Unknown: Because guys don’t say shit like “best friends”. We’re all just buddies. You wouldn’t understand.

Denver: Clearly.

Denver: What do you want?

Denver: Wait…how do you even know AJ? You live on the other side of the country.

Shepard: Stalked me that fast, huh? I’m impressed.

Denver: Shit up.

Shepard: I most certainly will not shit up.

Denver: I don’t even know you and I already hate you.

Shepard: Somehow, I doubt that.

Shepard: To answer your question, I know AJ from baseball camp. We go to the same one every summer, have since we were little. We’ve bonded over the years.

Denver: Then why haven’t I ever heard of you? I’ve known AJ for years too.

Shepard: Actually, you probably have.

Denver: I’d remember a stupid name like Shepard.

Shepard: Because you have SO much room to talk, DENVER.

Shepard: Seriously, really weird name you have there.

Denver: I’ll let my parents know you approve.

Denver: Still haven’t heard of you.

Shepard: He ever mention anyone named Slug?

Denver: YOU’RE Slug? THE Slug?

Shepard: Ah, so you HAVE heard of me before.

Denver: Heard of you? You’re all he talks about during baseball season. “Man, I wish Slug could have seen this…” “Dude, bro, Slug killed it in his game last night.”

Denver: His crush on you is annoying.

Shepard: What can I say? I’m a legend.

Denver: I believe I’ve rolled my eyes at the mention of you no less than 100 times.

Shepard: You mean you were rolling your eyes in ecstasy, right?

Denver: Are you trying to make me puke?

Shepard: Whatever you need to tell yourself.

Denver: Why are you still messaging me? GO AWAY, SLUG.

Shepard: Because I have something important to tell you.

Denver: I’m starting to believe you don’t.

Shepard: Because I’m being conversational? HOW DARE I USE MANNERS.

Denver: Out with it already!

Shepard: Fine. AJ is going

Denver: Going to?

Denver: What? The store? The mall? Hell? Cool story. I don’t care.

Denver: I lied. I do care. WHAT THE HELL, SLUG! You CANNOT just leave me in suspense like that!

Denver: Seriously. It’s been five minutes.

Denver: You’re totally getting off on this, aren’t you?

Denver: You’re just staring at your screen watching and waiting for another panicked message from me.

Denver: Whatever. I’m done. I’m blocking you.

Shepard: WAIT! DON’T!

Shepard: My brother came in and interrupted me. I didn’t mean to hit send yet or leave you hanging.

Shepard: You still there?

Shepard: Wait…are you doing what I just did to you? UNINTENTIONALLY, I might add.

Denver: Possibly.

Denver: Now tell me what you know.

Shepard: AJ’s planning to propose to Allie at homecoming next month.

Denver: You’re shitting me. We’re in high school. HIGH SCHOOL. This isn’t some TV show on the CW where they get married and spend the rest of their lives together despite a teen pregnancy and a crazy nanny and all kinds of other nonsense…that doesn’t happen in real life!

Shepard: While that is oddly specific, I agree, and that’s what I told him (with less details, of course).

Shepard: He’s insane. We’re way too young for that shit, but he’s all starry-eyed and in love.

Shepard: Please tell me Allie is going to let him down easy.

Denver: Honestly? She’d probably think it was romantic as hell and say yes.

Shepard: Our friends are morons.

Denver: Finally, something we can agree on.

Denver: I told Allie.

Shepard: But you kept my name out of it, right?

Denver: Yes. You’re the asshole in this friendship, not me.

Shepard: So we’re friends now, huh?

***

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