Mrs. Boone’s life was slowing down, and for many days she lived in her memories. When she wasn’t living in her memories, she was telling me how I should’ve been making my own. It may have seemed sad to many the way she lived nowadays, but to me, Mrs. Boone seemed so lucky. She might’ve been lonely, but in her mind she was never truly alone.

My memories were sparse, and some of them—maybe most—I was sure I had stolen from storybooks. Parts of me were angry about the way she pushed me, but another part knew I needed to be shoved. She was part of the reason I had a to-do list at all. Even when she was rude, she still believed in me having a future.

Those who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself were the ones to hold close.

“One, two, one, two, three, go!” Calvin chanted in the garage before rocking out on his bass guitar with Brooks and their band. I sat on the kitchen floor, recording them from the garage door, and whenever they’d break to talk, I’d go back to reading my novel.

When I was younger, reading hadn’t been my strong suit, but as the years went by, it became the voice I had lost. It was almost as if the characters lived inside my head and shared their thoughts with me and vice versa.

In the past ten years, I’d read over eight hundred books. I’d lived over eight hundred once upon a times. I’d fallen in love about six hundred and ninety times, fallen in lust maybe twenty times, and fallen in hate about ten billion times. Through those pages, I’d smoked pot, been skydiving, and gone skinny dipping. I’ve been stabbed in the back by friends—both physically and emotionally—and mourned the loss of loved ones.

I’d lived the lives of each character within the walls of my bedroom.

My father brought me a new book—or five—every two weeks on his payday. I assumed he spent twenty percent of his life in bookstores, searching for my next read.

My favorite time of each day was when the boys came home from school and played their music in the garage while I sat reading and listening in the kitchen. I’d always take a break from reading when the boys started fighting over lyrics, or chords, or Owen’s drum playing.

“I’m just saying, Rudolph, you’re two counts off beat,” Oliver, the keyboard player, said with a groan. Oliver was a bigger guy who sweated more than he breathed. Every shirt he wore had sweat stains to the max. When he stood from his drum stool, the butt sweat stains were intense, and the guys always mocked him about it. Plus, Oliver was hungry—all the time. If he wasn’t eating, he was talking about eating. He was a regular meatatarian who loved any kind of meat more than anyone I’d ever met. Besides his excessive sweating and love for steaks, Oliver was also the biggest teddy bear in the group and never fought over anything with anyone, except when it came to Owen, also known as Rudolph. The two fought over anything and everything each day. That day, the fight started because Rudolph was two counts off; he was always two counts off.

“You don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, Oli. You’re playing too fast. You need to pull back.” Rudolph was the complete opposite of Oliver—a vegetarian, stick-thin, and always layered with clothes because no matter the temperature, he was freezing. He always had a red nose, thus the nickname.

“Dude, are you kidding me? You know nothing about nothing. You need—” Oliver started.

Rudolph cut in. “No, you need—”

“TO CLEAN OUT YOUR EARS!” Oliver and Rudolph both hollered in unison. It only took seconds before they were standing face to face, pushing and poking each other while screaming. Oliver wrapped his arm around Rudolph’s neck and forced his head under Oliver’s armpit.

“Argh! Gross. Come on, Oli! No one deserves this!” Rudolph shouted, his face turning the same color as his nose. “Let me go!”

“Say it! Say it!” Oliver ordered. “Say I’m the best at the keys!”

“You’re the best at the keys, okay, dickhead?”

“And say Mom loves me best because I was born first!” Oliver mocked.

“Screw you, Oli…” Oliver pushed Rudolph’s head deeper under his arm, making Rudolph whimper like a sad puppy. “Okay! Mom loves you best! She loves you best, you freaking meatball.”

Oliver dropped his hold on his younger brother—younger by seventeen minutes—and clapped his hands together with a wide smirk. The two were fraternal twins and fought like it, too. It was always entertaining to watch.

As I watched the guys continue to fight, Brooks and Calvin stood in a corner, looking at a notebook where they scribbled lyrics and any ideas they had for the band. Most of the time, Brooks and my brother were complete dorks like the twins, except for when they were rehearsing. They were driven, focused, and determined to be the diamonds in the rough from Harper County, Wisconsin, that made it to Hollywood.

Mama came walking into the kitchen with four pizzas in her hand and hollered, “Boys! Food!”

That was enough to get all of them inside the house. The only thing better than Hollywood was pepperoni pizza.

I sat at the table with the guys as they went over their plans of buying huge mansions, Ferraris, yachts, and monkeys once they hit it big time.

“Don’t you think we should come up with a band name if we are going to be huge?” Rudolph asked, stuffing his face with his gluten-free cheese pizza.

“Wait, so Parrots Without Parents is a no go?” Brooks asked, wiping his saucy face with the back of his hand.

“I thought that was kind of awesome,” Oliver offered.

“I thought it was ridiculous!” Rudolph disagreed. “We should do something involving ninjas!”

“No, pirates!”

“Ninja pirates!” Calvin shouted. The boys all started talking over one another, and I sat quietly, nibbling at my pizza, taking in their actions. Most of the time I felt like a fly on the wall whenever I was around people, somewhat eavesdropping on their lives, because for the most part, they forgot I existed due to my silence.

But every now and then…

“What do you think, Magnet?”

Brooks nudged me gently in the side, and with the small touch from him, everything inside me warmed up. His eyes smiled my way and my heartbeat increased. I loved that about him. I loved how he could see me when the rest of the world forgot I existed. I gave him a small smile and shrugged.

“Come on,” he said, flipping open his notebook to a blank page and handing me his pen. As I took the pen from his grip, I allowed my fingers to linger against his hand. He watched my every move, and I made sure to make every move count.