Chapter no 10

My Life with the Walter Boys

It was Saturday morning, and I was finally starting to feel the effects of my punishment.

“What do you mean I can’t go?” Cole shouted.

Nathan and I had just gotten back from our morning run and were stretching out on the front lawn. A moment ago, Cole came storming out of the house to find his dad loading the truck with supplies: tents, sleeping bags, a box filled with pots and pans made for cooking over a fire, and other outdoorsy things.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t come,” George replied, looking up from his work.

Danny and Isaac, who were busy strapping a canoe to the top of Katherine’s van, glanced at Cole and snickered.

“Dad, I can’t miss the camping trip,” Cole said, his tone unyielding. “We always go—as a family.”

If he thought playing the sentimental card would work, Cole was mistaken.

George snorted. “Cole, if you want to come, then come. I’m giving you a choice, so I don’t see what the problem is.”

The problem was that Cole didn’t like either choice.

When I got home from school Friday afternoon, I found out that Alex hadn’t ditched me at lunch. He went home sick with some kind of stomach flu, although he still wasn’t talking to me. The Walters were going on their annual camping trip, but since Alex was ill, Katherine wanted someone to

stay home with him. If we chose not to go on the camping trip and took care of Alex, we would be released from our grounding after the weekend. On the other hand, if we decided to go on the trip, our grounding would stay the same—two more weeks of solitude.

For me, the choice was easy. I hated the outdoors and the thought of sleeping outside with bugs and the cold made me cringe. Staying home was a win-win. Cole, however, was pissed. His and Danny’s birthday was in two weeks and he wasn’t willing to give up his social life, family camping trip or not.

“This blows,” he complained as we watched his family back out of the driveway, both cars packed full.

“Sorry,” I said.

“No, you’re not,” he snapped, looking away from the window. “You didn’t even want to go.”

I knew he was only taking his frustration out on me, but it still made me flinch. “It’s not like this is my fault.”

“Maybe if you hadn’t been so drunk…” he whispered under his breath. “Don’t you dare blame this on me,” I hissed. “You were planning on

skipping school whether or not I came.”

“Whatever,” he said, storming out of the room. When I heard the front door bang, I knew he was heading out to work on his car. For the rest of the day, we all avoided each other. Alex stayed in his room playing GoG, while Cole stayed shut up in the garage. I tried to work on some homework, but I couldn’t concentrate. Instead, I camped out on the couch watching reruns of a soap opera that my mom had been addicted to. I tried to find Danny’s crime show, but it must have only been on at night.

Later, Cole came in to make himself dinner. After his frozen pizza was done cooking, he plopped down on the cushion next to me.

“Sorry I blamed you before,” he said. “I was pissed at my dad.” Then he shoved half a slice of pizza into his mouth. A few hours of cranking on his car must have cleared his mind. That didn’t mean I wanted to forgive him, though. Cole had a bad habit of taking his anger out on me, and I didn’t like

it. I stayed silent. He finished chewing and set down his plate with a sigh. “I was a jerk, Jackie. What else do you want me to say?”

I thought for a moment. “Give me a slice of that pepperoni. Then we’re good.”

After eating, we decided to watch a movie. While Cole turned on the TV, Alex wandered into the kitchen in search of dinner. He glanced at the last piece of pizza longingly before opening the pantry.

“Hey, Alex,” Cole said as he sat back down on the couch. “Wanna watch a movie with us?”

I glanced up, eager to hear his response, but when Alex caught me looking, he scowled. “I’m kind of busy getting eaten by scorpion trolls at the moment, but thanks.” Grabbing a bag of potato chips, he disappeared back upstairs.

Cole shrugged when we heard a door slam. “His loss. This is a great movie.”

His idea of a great movie was a slasher film called Crazy Jack, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep later. I tried to tell him nonchalantly that horror movies weren’t really my thing, but he called me a chicken until I reluctantly agreed. And that was how I ended up stuck on the couch with my face buried in Cole Walter’s shoulder on a Saturday night, as I tried not to scream my head off. He laughed at the gore and kept hinting who was going to die next, and I tried my best to hide behind a blanket. It didn’t help that a full-on thunderstorm was assaulting the house.

I peeked over the edge of the fabric. “Don’t go outside!” I yelled at the stupid girl who was slowly opening the front door.

“Is Jackie scared?” Cole asked, poking me in the side.

“No,” I told him, but my voice was shaky and I knew it sounded unconvincing. The rain was pounding on the window behind us.

“Yeah, you are,” Cole said and chuckled. He turned his attention back to the screen just in time to see the stupid girl step outside into the dark night. Then the TV and lights flickered out.

“Oh my God! He’s coming for us,” I screamed and buried my face into the closest available shoulder, which happened to be Cole’s.

“Not scared, huh?” he asked. “Um, maybe a little?”

“Don’t worry.” He stood up from the couch and in the process pulled my protection—the flimsy blanket I had been hiding under—away from me. “The power always cuts out during big storms. Dad’s been trying to fix it for years.”

“Guys?” I heard Alex call out. He appeared in the kitchen, using the light of his phone to guide himself through the dark house.

“Alex, over here,” Cole said. “I’m going to go see if I can get the backup generator working. Can you go find some candles in case I can’t?”

“All right,” Alex said and turned back around as Cole made his way to the back door.

“Wait, guys,” I cried, shooting out of my seat. “Don’t leave me alone.”

Alex paused and glanced over his shoulder, which I took as a sign to follow him. When I caught up, he headed for the basement door. A bad feeling formed in my stomach.

“Alex?” I asked, trying not to sound nervous. “Yeah?”

“The candles aren’t in the basement, are they?” “Yup.”

“I think I’ll go with Cole.”

“That’s fine,” Alex said. “But just so you know, the backup generator is in a shed outside.”

“Basement it is,” I mumbled as we headed toward our doom.


“We’re going to end up like the girl in the movie Cole made me watch,” I told Alex as we descended into the basement.

“Did she die?” Alex asked, continuing down the steps. “Well, not yet,” I said, “but I know she will.”


“That’s my point. We are so going to end up dead.”

Alex stopped on the stairs. “Jackie, it’s just the basement. Do you think we keep monsters down here?”

“No, it’s just that…” I trailed off.

“You’re afraid of the dark?” Alex finished for me.

I sighed. “Yeah, I guess so.” I didn’t used to be, but since the nightmares

—I just couldn’t handle the dark anymore.

“Once we get the candles it won’t be as dark, okay?” “Okay,” I mumbled, not really feeling better.

When we reached the bottom, Alex grabbed my hand and pulled me to the left. I followed behind him in astonishment. This was the first real conversation we’d had since our fight, which was why his sudden contact was all the more surprising. We fought our way through a maze of cardboard boxes, and when Alex suddenly stopped, I ran straight into him.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“This is my dad’s workroom,” he said in response, holding his phone up so I could see. There was an outline of an open door, and then nothing. “There are always candles in here.”

Alex went in, and I hesitated outside for a moment, but only until I heard an awful banging noise from somewhere else in the basement.

“Hey, Jackie, just make sure you don’t—”

“Oh my God, what was that?” I burst out, before dashing inside and slamming the door behind me.

“—shut the door,” Alex finished. “What?” I squeaked.

“Don’t shut the door,” he repeated with a sigh. He rattled the handle, but the door wouldn’t budge.

“Are we locked in?” I asked, horrified.

“It looks like it,” he said. “It’s been broken for as long as I can remember.”

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“Hold on a sec,” he said.

He shuffled around the room, opening and closing cabinets until I heard him strike a match. A candle came to life, filling the room with light.

“Much better,” Alex said. “Now what?”

“Texting Cole to come get us out,” he said, walking around the small room while holding up his phone. “Crap. I can’t find any service.” He snapped it shut and shoved it back in his pocket.

“I left mine upstairs,” I said, feeling guilty. “It’s okay. You didn’t know.”

“So what are we going to do?” I asked.

“We’ll have to wait until Cole finds us, but in the meantime…”

He grabbed a wooden barrel and placed it in the middle of the room. The candle was put in the center, and he pulled two chairs up, making a table for us to sit at. Then he went over to one of the cabinets and started searching through the shelves.

“Now what are you doing?” I asked him, carefully sitting down on the rickety folding chair.

“Looking for these!” he said, grinning like he’d won the lottery. In his hands was a beat-up deck of cards. He came back over to the table, pulling them out of the flimsy cardboard box as he walked. “I use to sit in here and watch my dad fix things when I was a little kid. When he got frustrated with something he couldn’t fix, he would pull these out and teach me to play different card games.”

“So your dad fixes stuff but never thought to repair the lock on the door?”

“He’s tried.” Alex sat down, and the candlelight made shadows flicker across the angles of his face. “I never said he was good at it, and the man’s way too stubborn to replace the handle, so more often than not, we just ended up playing cards.”

“That’s nice,” I said, cocking my head so I could see the image on the back of the cards. It looked familiar, and sure enough, when Alex held them

up for me to examine, the New York skyline was plastered there. The reminder of home was so unexpected that my chest went tight. “I wish my dad could have taught me stuff like that when I was little.”

“Why didn’t he?” Alex asked. He was shuffling now, his hands moving back and forth as he blended the deck together.

I gripped the edge of the barrel, trying to think of the best way to answer. In all honesty, my dad didn’t have much time when I was growing up. Sebastian Howard was a busy man with lots of work, and whenever he came home, it was only to lock himself in his office. I looked away from Alex. I wanted nothing more than to be sincere, but the last thing I needed was to give the Walters another reason to feel sorry for me.

I shrugged and said, “We weren’t much of a game family. Watching movies was more our thing.”

Alex leaned in. “I’ll teach you something,” he said.

He dealt quickly, explaining the rules as he went. Picking up my hand, I decided that the cards were older than I’d originally thought. Each one was bent and grubby. The ace of spades was sticky with what looked like grape jelly, and I could feel the grime on my fingers.

For my first few turns, I concentrated on grasping the rules and nothing more. Occasionally I would ask Alex about one of his moves and he would answer, but other than those few words, we played silently. He won the first round, but by then I’d caught on to the strategy and was confident that I could beat him in the next round. This time I dealt, and after arranging my hand, I asked Alex the question that had been bothering me since this morning.

“So, are you still mad at me?” I asked as he reached for the top card from the remaining deck. He paused and looked up at me. “Because if you are, now’s a pretty good time to talk about it.”

“I guess not,” he said. Then, after a long moment, “But I would really like to know what Mary said to you.”

“This is about you and me, not her.”

Before anything more could pass between us, I heard a distant shout.

“Where the hell are you guys?” It was Cole from somewhere in the basement.

Alex rushed over to the locked door. “Over here,” he shouted.

After a few minutes of searching in the dark, Cole found the key his dad kept on a hook outside the workroom and unlocked it. His hair was still dripping from the rain and his shirt clung to his shoulders, revealing the definition of muscle beneath, but he hadn’t been able to get the power back on.

Much to my annoyance, as we headed back upstairs with a few candles in hand, Alex told Cole how I’d locked us in the workroom.

“Don’t worry, Jackie,” Cole said, still laughing at me as we stepped into the kitchen. “We’ll protect you from all those scary monsters.”

“Oh yeah?” I said, a little grumpy. “What are you going to do? Stand guard outside my room all night?”

“Nope.” He pointed to the living room. The floor was covered with sleeping bags and piles of blankets and pillows. “I thought we could all sleep down here since the power is still out.”

Alex turned to Cole, grinning from ear to ear. “Good idea.”

Cole’s signature smirk was plastered across his face. “Yeah,” he said, “I know.”

“Awesome,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. On a scale of burned toast to global warming, this was a disaster. In my head, I could picture Heather melting to the floor in joy, but after a month of living with the Walters, I knew better. These boys were pure trouble.

In the end, I managed to snag the couch. Cole and Alex fought over the love seat, and it was no surprise when Cole came out victorious, leaving Alex to make himself comfortable on reclining chair.

I had just finished arranging my pillows when Cole started to unbuckle his belt. “What are you doing?” I hissed, and averted my eyes.

“I sleep in my boxers,” he said, stepping out of his pants as he bit back a grin. Next he tugged off his shirt, revealing his photoshopped abs. “It’s

okay if you stare,” he said, plopping down on the small sofa. He stretched out, and his long legs dangled over the edge of the armrest. “I don’t mind.”

“I was not staring,” I snapped at him.

“Yeah, Cole,” said Alex, who, after watching his brother for a few hesitant moments, made the decision to yank off his shirt as well. “Not every girl is obsessed with you.”

“All I’m saying,” Cole said, wiggling down into the cushions, “is that Jackie wasn’t looking at your scrawny self when you pulled off your shirt.”

“Would you both be quiet?” I said, thankful for the cover of darkness that hid my blush. And for some amazing reason, the boys actually listened to me, both falling silent as we settled into our makeshift beds for the night. My muscles were tired from the long day, and I thought I would drop off instantly, but I lay there wide awake, unable to close my eyes. I was exceedingly aware of Cole and Alex, one on either side of me. I was so

tense, that when a drop of water hit my forehead, I nearly screamed. “Jackie?” Alex said, his voice sleepy. “What’s wrong?”

“I think the ceiling is leaking,” I said, holding my hand out in the air. Sure enough, after a few more seconds of waiting with my palm outstretched, I felt a cool splash against my skin.

“I’ll get a bucket,” Alex said. With a yawn, he scooted off the chair and made his way into the kitchen.

“Here, Jackie,” Cole said, standing up. He picked his pillow and blankets up off the sofa.

“Don’t worry about me,” I told him as I spread my blanket out on the living room floor. “I’ll be fine.”

Not surprisingly, he didn’t listen, and soon he had a bed laid out on the ground right next to me. He flopped down, and I could practically feel him lying there, his arm inches from mine. Can you please move over? sat on the tip of my tongue, but I refused to say anything, not wanting to admit that he had an effect on me.

“What’s going on?” Alex asked when he came back from the kitchen with a mixing bowl in his hand.

“Couldn’t let the lady sleep on the floor by herself,” Cole responded. “Not with all those psycho murderers on the loose.”

“Dang it, Cole,” I said, hitting him with a pillow. “It’s not funny.” I’d managed to forget about the movie until he brought it up again. Now I would never get to sleep.

Alex paused and glanced between his bed for the night and the empty carpet on my right-hand side. “Oh,” he said. He arranged the bowl on the couch to catch the leak before returning to the recliner.

From the floor, I had a full view of the raging storm through the window. There wasn’t much to see, but every time lightning flashed, I expected to see Crazy Jack standing there with a meat cleaver. I told myself to close my eyes, but I couldn’t look away as my chest pounded.

“Cole?” I finally asked, my voice squeaky. “Uh-huh?”

“Could you close the blinds?” I was past caring if he made fun of me. “Sure,” he said, getting up slowly. He pulled on the curtain cord but had

to yank it around a few times before the shades tumbled down. Once they settled in place and I could no longer see outside, I finally let out the breath I was holding.

“You know,” Cole said, as he lay back down, “I think the only reason you wanted me to get up was so you could see my perfectly toned abs again.”

“Cole,” Alex and I said at the same time, “shut up.”

He chuckled, but then it was finally silent again. So quiet, in fact, that I could hear the ping of water droplets as they fell into the bowl on the couch. Next to me, Cole had already dozed off, a soft wheezing sound escaping his lips as he breathed in and out. There was a creak of springs as Alex moved on the recliner, but then I saw his shape moving around in the dark.

“What’s wrong?” I whispered. He dropped his blanket to the floor.

“The chair’s uncomfortable,” he responded. I could tell from the way he stood there awkwardly that he was waiting for permission to lie down.

“Okay,” I told him.

That seemed to be enough, because a second later Alex was stretching out next to me, and not long after that he was out. In their sleep, both boys kept moving closer to me, and when I finally drifted off, there was one arm wrapped around my stomach and one hand intertwined with mine.


Sunday passed quickly. The boys called Will in the morning and he came over to fix the power. Once it was back on, Cole spent what little time he could watching ESPN before his parents got home. Alex tried to tempt me into playing GoG, but I wasn’t willing to break Katherine and George’s rules. I stayed in my room reading until my phone rang.

“Sammy?” I asked, picking up immediately when I saw her name on the caller ID.

“Hey, girly,” she said. “What you up to?”

“Not much,” I said, pushing away from my desk and moving to the bed. I collapsed on the comforter and switched the phone to my other ear. “Just doing some anatomy homework for next week.”

“Ugh, typical Jackie,” Sammy criticized. I could practically see her sitting on the fuzzy pink rug in our dorm room, painting her toenails. “You’re living with a bunch of hot guys, and instead of finding Cole and experiencing some real-life anatomy, you’re shacking up with a textbook like a pariah.”

“It’s not like I never see him,” I told her. “I mean we did sleep together last night.”

You what?

“Okay, wait,” I said, backtracking. “That came out all wrong.”

But Sammy was already in full-on rant mode. “My best friend went and got herself de-virgin-fied and you didn’t think to call me, like…this morning? Seriously, you moved away and poof! I don’t hear from you until five years later and—”

“Oh my God, no!” I said, shouting into the phone.

“‘No’ to what? The five years part, because it’s honestly starting to feel like that. The next thing you know, I’ll be stalking your Facebook just to see if you’re still alive.”

“Would you stop being such a drama queen?”

“Are you kidding me?” she said, clearly upset. “This situation is totally eligible for full-on drama status!”

“Sammy,” I said, lowering my voice so nobody could hear me. “Can you just chill out? I didn’t de-virgin myself or whatever.”

“Sex, Jackie. We’re talking about sex!”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know what we’re talking about, and I didn’t do that.” “Oh,” she said after a long pause. “Then what are you talking about?” “When I said ‘slept,’ I meant we fell asleep in the same vicinity.”

“Well, that is totally less newsworthy. Mr. Elvis sleeps with me when he can’t get comfy on his doggy bed, and then he makes these little farts that stink up the whole room, but you don’t hear me blabbing on about it.”

“I’m not the one blabbering,” I said. “And I don’t know, it just—it feels kind of big to me. I don’t know what to do about him, Sammy.”

“It’s not what you do about him. It’s what you do with him. Grab him by those big, manly arms that I’m assuming he has, and show him what New York has to offer.”

“Okay, can you please be serious for a moment? I’m really confused here,” I told her. “I try to ignore him, but then he does something cute like, I don’t know, taking me on a tour of the ranch to cheer me up, and I just— argh!” I grabbed my pillow and flung it across the room.

Sammy sighed. “All right, I’m sorry. I got a little excited to finally hear from you.”

“A little excited?”

“Do you want to talk about your Cole issues or not?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t want to have Cole issues. I just want to get through these next few years and come home.”

“So for the next two years of high school, you’re never going to have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t know.”

“Jackie, just because you’re leaving eventually doesn’t mean you can’t get to know people.”

“I’m not afraid of forming relationships, Sammy—it’s just him.” “Why?”

“Because he’s a complete chauvinist. When we go to school, it’s like he has a different girl to make out with every period.” In reality that was just an excuse. The real reason why I was frightened by whatever was going on between Cole and me was too hard to admit.

“Okay,” she said, thinking out loud, “so he’s a bit of a man-whore. But, honey, trust me when I say that can be fixed. You should focus on the positive things. It sounds like he can be sweet when he wants to be.”

“It’s not just that. It’s…” I trailed off, still struggling to say what I was thinking.

“It’s what?”

“How can I even have these feelings?” I asked, squeezing my eyes shut. “That shouldn’t even be okay since—”

“Since what?” she snapped. “Since your family’s accident? Are you never allowed to love someone again because of that?” The anger in her voice caught me off guard.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that, but…” I paused and took a breath. “Don’t you think it’s too soon?”

“God, Jackie, no!” Sammy gasped, horrified. “It’s not like there are rules detailing the right way to mourn. Being in a relationship might be a good thing.”


“It could help you heal,” she said, “And, I don’t know…move on?”

I nodded my head and told Sammy, “Yeah, okay,” even if I didn’t mean it. Why was she acting like I needed to be fixed? I was here in Colorado, living my life. I didn’t need a relationship to heal or whatever, and I most definitely didn’t need Cole.


On Monday, we all piled out of the truck when we got to school. Danny and I had to wait for everyone to grab their backpacks because ours were at the bottom of the pile.

“So, how was being grounded?” Danny asked.

It was the first thing he’d said to me since our afternoon in the auditorium. He wasn’t ignoring me per se—he’d nodded at me this morning when we ran into each other in the hallway—and I had accepted that Danny was a silent type.

“Good.” I was pleasantly surprised that he actually started a conversation with me. We were making progress! “The lights went out, but I got a bunch of homework done,” I said. Danny slung his backpack over his shoulder and nodded his head. “How was your weekend?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation going as we made our way into the building.

“I don’t like camping.”

“Really?” I asked, and my voice pitched up, revealing my surprise. I thought all of the Walter boys enjoyed the outdoors. After all, they grew up on a ranch.

“All those creepy, crawly bugs freak the crap out of me,” he said. I choked, thinking for a moment that he was being serious.

“I’m kidding,” he said quickly, but it was hard to tell because his face was so serious. “About the bugs, at least. I’m more of an indoors kind of guy.”

“You live in the middle of nowhere,” I pointed out.

He shrugged. “My drama class went on a field trip to Chicago freshman year, and it just felt right. I’d rather live in the city.”

“Yeah, there’s something about all those people, the busy streets, and the movement—it makes you feel alive.” Danny was gazing at me now with a look I couldn’t quite decipher, so I went on. “If you enjoyed Chicago, you’ll love New York.”

“New York,” he repeated slowly.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s the best place in the world.”

“I got the part,” he said, suddenly changing the subject.

I blinked. “Oh, right,” I finally responded, realizing he was talking about

Romeo and Juliet. “Congratulations, Danny. That’s great news.”

“Thanks,” he said, and then he was gone, disappearing into crowded hallway.

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