I laughed. “You’re weird sometimes.”

“I’m always weird.” All of a sudden Hazel leaped up from her seat and held her hand out toward me. “Come dance with me.”

“What? No. It’s a slow song. I don’t dance to slow songs.”

“Do you dance to fast songs?”

I paused. “Well, no.”

“Ian Parker, if you don’t get off your tailbone and dance with me, then I swear I’ll tell everyone you were the one who set Big Paw’s mailbox on fire.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t dare.”

She pushed her tongue in her cheek and placed her hands on her hips. “Try me.”

“That goes against the wolf pack rules.”

“Luckily I’m not a part of the wolf pack.”

I laughed. “After these past few months, I think you’re more a part of the wolf pack than I am. You wouldn’t really tell Big Paw.”

“You want to bet on it?”

I narrowed my eyes at her, and she narrowed hers right back.

She’s bluffing.

She has to be.

I shook my head. “What does it matter? I’m leaving this town come morning, anyway.”

“You think Big Paw won’t track you down to kick your ass for ruining his mailbox?” she asked.

Well, yeah.

I knew he would. He’d carved that mailbox by hand over twenty-five years ago. That mailbox was older than me, and it had probably pissed Big Paw off a lot less than I did.

I stood up from my tire and pointed a finger her way. “If I dance with you, you can’t hold the mailbox thing over my head again.”

“I won’t.”


She took her fingers and made a cross over her chest. “Cross my heart, hope to die.”

If she weren’t so annoying right then, I would’ve thought she was cute.

Who was I kidding? She was beautiful.

“I get to lead,” I told her.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” she replied, holding her hand out.

I reluctantly took her hand into mine, and we began to dance to the slow song that she hadn’t known but was certain was her new favorite.

“Ouch!” She jumped back seconds after I stepped on her foot.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “I told you I don’t slow dance.”

She regrouped and moved in close again. “It’s fine. You can only get better with practice.”

We danced back and forth, and Hazel laid her head against my shoulder. As we swayed, she hummed the song as if she knew every word.

“See?” she whispered. “Isn’t this nice?”

I didn’t reply, but truth was I didn’t hate it. I hated a lot of things about small-town Eres, but slow dancing with Hazel wasn’t one of them.

“Are you scared, Ian? About leaving home?”

“Not at all,” I quickly replied. There was nothing scary about leaving town and going off to Los Angeles to chase my music career. The only scary thing to me was staying in a small town and never reaching my dreams.

If I didn’t leave Eres tomorrow, I was almost certain I’d never get away.

“Then I’ll be scared for you,” she commented, holding me tighter, and I allowed it, because all I wanted to do for the next fifteen hours was hold her close to me. “I just don’t want you to lose yourself, you know. People often go chasing after this big Hollywood dream, and they lose themselves.”

“What do you know about people chasing their Hollywood dreams? Nobody we know has ever done what my band and I are doing.”

“I know, but I’ve seen enough movies to know that Hollywood changes people.”


Not me, though.

I just wanted to play my music for a bigger crowd than the old folks down at the barn house.

“I’ll be fine,” I told her.

“Good, because I like you the way you are. You know what, Ian?”

“What’s up?”

Hazel looked up at me with teary eyes and shook her head a little. “Sometimes I think about you not being around anymore, and my heart hurts a lot.”

“Come on, Hazel. Don’t get too emotional. I’ll be back.”

“No, you won’t,” she whispered, laying her head back against my shoulder.

I didn’t reply, because I knew she was pretty much right, and by the time I came back, she’d probably be gone chasing her own dreams.

“I’m going to miss you so much, Ian,” she confessed.

We kept dancing between the tire swings, Hazel kept smiling my way, and jeez, I’m going to miss that smile.

The song shifted to a faster one, but we kept our slow speed going.

She looked up at me and gave me another smile. This time it was sadder. “Again?”

I kissed her.

I kissed her slowly and gently and let my lips linger, because I was too afraid to pull away from her.

“Haze . . . ,” I whispered, looking into her eyes. I felt everything for that girl. I wanted to tell her about the words flying through my head. I wanted her to know how love was racing through every fiber of my existence and that love belonged to her. But I was scared, because come morning, I’d be gone. Come morning, I couldn’t do anything about said love.