Chapter no 12

My Life with the Walter Boys

After school, Katherine had a meal waiting for us. We all sat down and ate together, no snakes included.

“Someone want to get me some more milk?” Isaac asked, holding up an empty cup.

George raised an eyebrow. “What happened to your legs? No one here is your butler.”

“Jackie?” Benny asked me then. “Did you have butters to serve your food at dinnertime?”

Isaac, who was trying to chug from Cole’s glass before he noticed, spit milk all over the table in laughter.

“No, Benny,” I said. “We did not have any butlers.

“Hey!” Cole complained, noticing his empty glass in Isaac’s hand. “That was my milk!”

“And this was your roll too,” Isaac said, shoving half of it in his mouth. “Mmmm, tasty.”

When everyone was done eating and the table cleared, I headed up to my room to do homework. It was going to be a very boring night since most of the guys were going to Mary’s party, but maybe later I could watch a movie with Jack and Jordan.

It was loud in the hallway as everyone got ready, and the smell of Axe seeped under my door. Finally all the commotion traveled downstairs, and I went to the window to watch everyone pile into the truck and pull away. Sighing, I collapsed on my bed, ignoring the calculus notebook that was

open on my desk. Even though this was my choice, a tiny part of me felt left out. I wished I could spend the night hanging out with Alex and Nathan.

Not long after the thought crossed my mind, my bedroom door slammed open.

“Up!” Cole demanded, strolling into my room.

“Huh?” What was he still doing here? Hadn’t he left with his siblings? “We don’t have all night.” He yanked me out of my bed and dragged me

over to the closet. Throwing it open, he started riffling through my clothes. “No. No. No,” he said, pushing aside each hanger as he went. “Don’t you have anything hot?”

“What about this?” I asked, pointing to one of my favorite dresses.

“Do you want to look like a couch?” he said, and flipped past it. The dress slipped off its hanger and crumpled to the floor.

“That’s a Chanel piece!” I gasped, scooping it up.

“We have a winner,” he said, ignoring me. “Here, put this on.”

The air froze in my lungs when I saw what he was holding—a black minidress with a silver buckle at the waist. It wasn’t mine. Somehow, one of my sister’s clubbing outfits must have ended up in my clothing.

“Hello? Earth to Jackie?” Cole said, waving the outfit in my face. “I can’t wear that,” I told him, my voice tight. “It’s not mine.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not Isaac’s or Danny’s, so it must be yours.” “It was my sister’s,” I told him. “I don’t know how it ended up inside

one of my moving boxes.”

“Oh,” Cole said, dropping his arm. “I supposed you can just go in what you’re wearing.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, even though I already knew what his answer would be.

“The party,” he responded, his voice edged with amusement. “You’re coming with me.”

And that’s all it took. There was that feeling again—the one that made me bold just because Cole was standing next to me. It was so

overwhelming, irresistible even, that in a daze, I let him guide me out of my room and down to the car.


When Nick’s car pulled onto Mary Black’s cul-de-sac, I realized I had gotten myself into another situation. I couldn’t go in—the last time I’d let go and taken a risk, it had ended badly. The music from the party was so loud that I could feel it even though the doors were closed. I crossed my arms, refusing to take off my seat belt as Cole popped a piece of gum into his mouth.

“Do I need to carry you inside?” he asked. “Because I swear I will.”

Instead of answering, I stared out the windshield with no intention of moving. I was prepared to sit in the car all night if I had to. Not only was it Mary’s house, but I didn’t want Alex to think I’d turned him down just to show up with his brother.

Cole sighed and yanked the handle and stepped outside. I risked a quick glance at him and saw the breeze ruffle his light hair. When he moved to the front of the car, I smiled, thinking that he had given up. But he was just stopping to say something to Nick. They shook hands, which transitioned into a man hug, a semi-embrace that lasted for a split second and ended with a firm pat on the back. The smile slipped off my face when Cole jogged around the side of the car and opened my door.

“Out now,” he said with a serious face.

“Cole!” I said, hearing the whine in my voice. “I told Alex I wasn’t coming. He’s going to be upset if I show up now.”

“And that’s my problem?” he asked, reaching over to undo my seat belt. “Just tell him you changed your mind.”

How was I supposed to tell him about what Mary said to me? I felt the words perched on my tongue, but I paused too long and lost my nerve. “Seriously,” I said instead, “it’s not funny.”

Cole didn’t respond. Instead he grabbed me by the waist, pulled me from the car, and threw me over his shoulder.

“Put me down!” I screamed as he kicked the door shut with his foot.

A few people who were standing on the porch looked up at us. He was laughing now, and I pounded on his back with my fist as he made his way toward the house.

“Cole Walter, I will make sure you die a painful death if you don’t let me go this instant,” I demanded.

We received more strange looks as he trudged up the steps. “Sorry,” Cole apologized to the people standing by the door, beers in hand. “I have a runaway date on my hands.”

“I am not your date!” I hissed at him.

But Cole was already stepping inside, tuning out my every protest. Once he closed the door behind him, he finally put me down.

“See?” he said, shouting over the music and patting me on the head. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“Are you kidding me—” I began, but someone cut me off.

“Jackie?” I turned in time to see Alex emerging from the throng of people. “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I wasn’t, but your annoying brother—”

“Invited her to the party,” Cole said, cutting me off. He wrapped his arm around my waist and smirked at his little brother.

“What are you doing?” I hissed, and tried to push him off me. “Get off.” But Cole’s grip was strong, his fingers digging into my side.

“You came with him?” Alex said, his jaw clenched.

“Alex, it wasn’t like that,” I tried to say. But there was a tight, anxious knot in my stomach and I had a feeling that it was too late.

“Really, Jackie,” Cole said, bending down to press his lips to my forehead. “You don’t have to lie about us. Alex understands. Right, little bro?”

And in that moment, the damage was done. Alex stood there staring at us, and I could sense the tension moving off him in waves. His dark eyes were accusing, and I felt myself bristle.

“How about I go get us a beer?” Cole said. His mouth curled into an almost smile, but there was no warmth behind it. “Be right back, okay?”

He removed his arm from around me, and it was as if he’d extracted my spine, stealing every ounce of energy I had along with it. My knees buckled, but then my hand shot out and I braced myself against the wall. Had Cole ruined everything I had with Alex—whatever that was, friendship or something more—in a matter of minutes? Could he really win that easily?

“Alex,” I began. There was no way I would let Cole get away with this. “You have to listen to me. He dragged me here. I didn’t want to come.”

Nostrils flaring, Alex gave a derisive snort. “You really think I’m going to believe that crap lie? If you’re going to sneak around with Cole, at least have the decency to tell me the truth.”

“I am telling you the truth,” I said, trying to disregard the dread that was seeping into my veins, making my heart beat faster by the minute.

“You know, I believed you the first time,” Alex said, his light hair falling into his eyes. I knew he was referring to when I had come home with Cole absolutely drunk. “How does it go—fool me once?”

Attempting to marshal my tumbling thoughts, I took a step toward him. “Please,” I started to say, but the rest of the words faded in my throat because Alex was already merging back into the crowd. I stared unseeingly after him, my eyes glazing over.

“What is she doing here?” I heard someone say.

I came back to myself with a start and saw Mary standing at the bottom of the staircase, a cocktail in her hand. Her hair was piled up in a bun, giving her the appearance of having a golden halo. The pink skirt that she was wearing was just long enough, and the heels on her feet made her legs a mile long. It looked as if she had been having a private girl session in her room, because there was a flock of friends behind her on the steps. Each of their faces was set in a sneer as they glared in my direction.

By now, lots of people were watching me, some already whispering. Desperate, I glanced around the room hoping to see someone I knew— Nathan or maybe Riley, even Isaac would do—but all I saw were strangers.

“I said, what are you doing in my house? You weren’t invited.” Turning back around, Mary was standing in front of me with a hand perched dangerously on her hip in outrage.

“I–I…” I tried to say something, but nothing else came out.

The entire room was staring at me, and my throat got tight as I saw people turn and start to whisper to one another. My vision was starting to tunnel, and I could hear my blood rushing in my ears. Panic gripped me, and I swung around on my heels and flew out the door before Mary could say anything more.

Once outside, I pushed past the people on the porch and started running. The cold night air burned my throat and soon I was gasping for air. For some reason, the oxygen wouldn’t fill my lungs, but I kept pushing. I didn’t know where I was going, but anywhere was better than this place that seemed to suffocate me.

When I reached the end of the neighborhood, I spotted the welcome sign: West Walnut Hills Welcomes You to Evansdale, Colorado! There I let up, gripping my knees as I caught my breath. Tears streamed down my face in hot tracks, and I could feel my arms shaking.

“Argh!” Rage pulsing through me, I swung my foot at a pebble on the road. It hopped across the pavement as a strong breeze started to whip around angrily, sensing my pain. “I hate it here!” I screamed. “Why can’t I just go home?”

Only the wind answered me.

Nathan was probably the only Walter boy who didn’t hate me.

When he woke me up the next morning for our run, I was completely caught off guard. After what had happened the night before, I expected everyone to ignore me, so I planned on staying in bed all day. I was going to tell Katherine that I didn’t feel well. She had picked me up from the party last night when I called her nearly in tears, and even though she repeatedly asked me what was wrong on the drive home, I refused to tell her.

“What are you doing in here?” I grumbled at Nathan, pulling the covers back over my head. “Didn’t you hear what happened last night?”

“Naturally,” he said, yanking them off again. He was dressed in his workout clothes—athletic shorts and a cutoff tee—and was bouncing on his heels, ready to go.

“Why aren’t you pissed at me?”

“I’m not an idiot, Jackie,” he said, his voice edged with amusement. “I know both of my brothers well enough to have put two and two together when I heard the stories. You did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Wrapping my arms around my chest, I hugged myself and refused to look at him. “How am I going to fix this?” I asked.

“Well, you can start by getting out of bed and going for a run,” he told me.

It was nice to know that at least there was one person on my side.

However, I wasn’t in the mood and I let him go without me.

How was I going to survive living here now? It was hard enough in the beginning when I first arrived, but now? The school year was almost over, and I would be stuck on this stupid, isolated farm with a bunch of guys who wouldn’t even talk to me for the whole summer.

I glanced at the clock. By now there should have been some movement down the hall as people woke up, but the house was eerily silent. Groaning, I kicked off my remaining sheets and quietly put my feet on the floor. I didn’t want to make any noise. Wincing as the floorboards groaned, I crept to my door and peered outside. Every door down the hall was shut. Strange, I thought, stepping back inside.

When she tucked me in last night, Katherine had opened my window so the room wouldn’t get stuffy. It was how I heard the shouting down below. It came out of nowhere, an alarming call that broke the silence of the morning. I ran over to the window to see what was going on and saw Cole emerging from the fields carrying a bundle of something in his arms. He was dressed in work clothes and I knew that he was doing his morning chores.

“Isaac, help!” Cole shouted. It was then that I noticed Isaac standing on the back deck in his boxers, trying to sneak a morning smoke in. “Nathan’s

in trouble!”

Hearing Nathan’s name, I squinted at Cole to see better, and the air froze in my lungs. In his arms was Nathan’s limp form.

“Aunt Katherine!” I heard Isaac call inside, his voice filled with panic. “Something’s wrong with Nate. I think we need to call an ambulance!”

I was moving then without having to think. I threw on a pair of pants and a shirt before racing out of my room. Down in the kitchen, Isaac was helping Cole get Nathan through the back door. The wait was nerve-racking, and by the time the white van sped up the driveway, sirens wailing and lights flashing, mostly everyone was down in the kitchen.

“What’s going on?” Danny asked as we watched the EMT load Nathan into the back. “Is he okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said, as the bile rose in my throat. “I heard shouting— Cole was carrying him—and, oh God!” I stumbled back into one of the kitchen chairs and let my head fall between my knees as I gasped for breath. My thoughts were reeling, back to the day of my family’s accident, and now all I could see were their faces blinking by in my vision, Nathan’s included.

This wasn’t happening. Not again.

“Come on, Jackie,” Danny said, gripping my shoulder and giving me a shake. “Isaac has the truck running. We’re going to the hospital.”

Despite the fact that my head was spinning, I let him pull me from the house without a fight. My thoughts were in a different place, miles away. Not once during the ride to the hospital did I think about how awkward I should be feeling sitting next to Alex. It didn’t matter. All I could think about was the fact that I might be losing another person I cared about.

Nobody knew what was wrong. All Cole said was that he went out to the barn this morning and found Nathan unconscious. The only guess that I could make was that he must have tripped while he was running and knocked himself unconscious. But even that theory sounded absurd.

Isaac’s lead foot got us to the hospital almost faster than the ambulance. Before he could even park, the truck doors flew open and everyone piled

out. We tore across the parking lot and flooded the front lobby where a startled nurse directed us to the ER.

After so much rushing and panic, time passed slowly in the waiting room. No one spoke as we sat in the uncomfortable chairs, hoping to hear news from the doctors about Nathan. Cole was pacing the length of the room. Katherine was silently crying, her head resting on George’s shoulder, and Isaac was tapping his foot so hard that I was surprised he didn’t put a hole in the floor.

Finally, a man in a white coat appeared.

“Katherine Walter?” he asked, looking up from his clipboard.

She shot up out of her chair. “Yes?” she asked, her voice cracking. “That’s me.”

After introducing himself as Dr. Goodman and going through all the pleasantries that nobody cared to hear, he told us the news that we were waiting for. “Your son Nathan has just woken up, and it looks like he is going to be fine,” he said, offering her a smile.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank God,” Katherine said, putting her hand to her heart. “When can we see him?”

He paused. “Nathan is in stable condition,” he started to say. From the way he was looking at Katherine, I knew he had more news, but was choosing his words carefully. “But there is something we need to discuss first. Your son suffered a severe concussion. We still have to do some more tests, but our initial diagnosis is that Nathan fell and hit his head after suffering a seizure,” Dr. Goodman said.

“A seizure?” George echoed in astonishment. “How is that even possible?”

Dr. Goodman explained to the Walters that Nathan’s seizure was a result of excessive neuronal activity in the brain, a common chronic neurological disorder known as epilepsy. He also explained that while about fifty million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy, a good portion of those people only experience one seizure in their whole lifetime.

“May we please see him now?” Katherine asked once Dr. Goodman finished explaining the condition.

“Of course,” he said, looking around the waiting room. As he noticed our huge group, he added, “But family only.”

Everyone stood up and followed the doctor. I trailed after them slowly, not knowing what to do. Would I be allowed to see Nathan? As I watched everyone disappear into a hospital room, I decided I didn’t care what the doctor said. One more person wouldn’t hurt. Just as I was about to duck in, Lee stepped out into the hall to face me.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked me with his usual scowl on his face.

“To see Nathan,” I told him with a determined look on my face. “Didn’t you hear the doctor?” he asked. “Family only.”

“Lee, come on,” I responded, and I could hear the hurt in my tone. “I live with you guys. I count too.”

“Jackie,” he said slowly, a cruel gleam in his eyes. “You could live with us for the rest of your life and it wouldn’t matter. You will never be part of our family.”

I turned away from him, letting the words sink in. He was right. I didn’t belong.

“Besides,” Lee said, hissing at me, “why should you get to see him when it’s your fault he’s in here?”

“What?” I squeaked, not believing my ears. I turned to face him, in spite of the fact that my eyes were starting to water. His gaze locked with mine, his expression venomous.

“You heard me,” he drawled. “This never would have happened if you’d gone running with Nathan. But you were too busy sulking in your room, weren’t you? All because Alex doesn’t like you anymore.”

It was as if he’d slapped me. “No,” I said, shaking my head, but I was already reeling from his implication and I took a step back in horror.

Lee’s lips curled in disgust. “Just go away, Jackie,” he told me. And I did.

It was the last place anyone would ever look for me. I didn’t know how I ended up there, but Will had always been nice whenever I saw him. He rented a small one-bedroom apartment in town that was only a fifteen-minute walk from the hospital.

I’d been to his place once before when Katherine asked Cole and me to drop off a box of invitations that she wrote out for Will and Haley’s upcoming wedding. That was over a month ago, and I was afraid I’d forgotten how to get there. But the apartment complex was right off the main road, and when I spotted it, I let the air pent up in my lungs slip passed my lips in relief.

Nobody answered when I first knocked. I was afraid momentarily that he wasn’t home, but when I pounded for the second time, Will pulled open the door, still half asleep.

“Jackie?” he asked, his eyes squinting in the daylight. His usual ponytail was missing, and his blond hair fell down to his shoulders. “What are you doing here?”

“Sorry, Will. I didn’t mean to wake you,” I said, wringing my hands behind my back. “It’s just that, when we first met, you told me that if I ever needed anything I could talk to you.”

“Oh,” he said, pulling open the door. “Come in.”

The inside of Will’s apartment was a cave. There was only one window in the main room, and the black curtains were drawn closed to keep the space dark.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he said, shutting the door, which cut off the room’s only source of light.

I carefully made my way toward what looked like the outline of a couch, and I managed to get there only banging my toe once.

“Would you like some coffee?” Will asked.

I could hear him navigating through the darkness like an expert, guided by the numbers on the microwave’s digital clock like a sailor with the night constellations.

“Please,” I told him.

Will reached the tiny kitchen and flipped on a light switch. As he shuffled back and forth, turning the coffeepot on and grabbing mugs, I inspected the room around me. Besides the couch and the table I’d stubbed my toe on, the only other furniture was a reclining chair that looked like it was going to fall apart the next time someone sat down. There was also a bookshelf that was almost empty except for a small collection of tiny, potted cacti. Compared to the old furniture, the only thing in the room that looked new was the flat-screen TV hanging directly in front of me on the far wall.

“Cream, sugar?” Will called. “Just cream.”

There was the distinct clanking of a spoon being stirred and the fridge door slamming shut, and then Will came out of the kitchen with two steaming cups. He handed one to me before taking a spot on the recliner. Amazingly, it didn’t collapse.

“So,” Will said. “What’s wrong?” He hadn’t taken a sip of his coffee, yet he was starting to look more awake than when I’d first found him.

There was no point in beating around the bush. “Nathan’s in the hospital,” I told him as calmly as possible.

“What?” It was a good thing that Will had already set his coffee down, because if he hadn’t, I think he would have dropped it in his lap. “Was there an accident on the ranch?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “He had a seizure.” When I saw the dread on Will’s face, I added, “Don’t worry. The doctor said he should be fine.”

Will was shaking his head in disbelief. “But how did this happen?” I paused. “They said he has epilepsy.”

“But—he’s so young.”

“I don’t think age has anything to do with it.”

“I know, it’s just…” He trailed off, burying his face in his hands. “I’m so sorry, Will.”

He was still for such long time that when he suddenly stood up, making the recliner screech in protest, it startled me. “Is everyone still at the

hospital?” he asked. “Yes, I think so.”

“All right.” He snatched a pair of keys off the table. “I just need to put on a different shirt and then—wait,” he said, stopping to stare at me. “Why aren’t you there? How did you even get here?”

I flinched at his questions. “I–I walked here.”

“Why did you do that?” he asked. Glancing away, I didn’t say anything for a long time. There was no way I was going to tell Will what Lee had said to me. “Jackie, are you okay?”

I sighed. “I left the hospital because I couldn’t handle the thought of Nathan being hurt,” I told him. “It reminded me of, of—”

“The accident,” Will finished for me in a whisper.

“Yeah.” It wasn’t a lie. When Cole had brought Nathan to the kitchen unconscious, I was overwhelmed by the fear of losing someone else I cared about.

“Oh God, Jackie. I’m so sorry.”

Then I was crying, big heaving sobs that made my chest tight and throat sore. I was crying because of so many things: the blank, uncaring look I saw in Cole’s eyes at Mary’s party, and the crushed look in Alex’s when he saw me with his brother, Nathan’s accident, Lee’s cruel words, the loss of my family and home. And I was crying because I knew I shouldn’t be. Will was the one who had just found out his brother was in the hospital, but still he sat by my side, trying to comfort me.

“Shhh, it’s going to be okay, Jackie.” But I didn’t know if it would be.


I must have cried myself to sleep. When I opened my eyes, I could feel the dried tears on my cheeks and the hair plastered to the side of my face. My neck was stiff from lying on the couch. I knew I was still at Will’s, but the apartment was dark again and I couldn’t see anything.

“Will?” I called out, my voice groggy.

“He’s at the hospital.”

The lamp next to the couch clicked on to reveal Cole sitting in the recliner. There were circles under his eyes and his hair was sticking up in the back, as if he had been trying to sleep in the chair but couldn’t get comfortable.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded. Seeing him made me feel sad all over again.

“Will wanted to go see Nathan, but he didn’t want to leave you alone, so he called me.”

I lay back down on the couch so I wouldn’t have to look at him. After falling asleep, Will must have tucked a blanket around me and I pulled it up to my chin now for protection. “But why are you here?” I asked, rephrasing my question.

“Because I was worried about you.”

I forced a laugh. “Please, you don’t need to lie.” “Why would I lie to you?”

“Cole, stop pretending like last night and everything that went down at the party didn’t happen,” I said. “I’m not in the mood for your bullshit right now.”

He sighed. “I know.”

“Good. Then you’ll understand that I want to be alone.”

“Jackie, please listen to me,” he said, ignoring my request. His voice was barely audible, almost as if he was hurting just as much as me. I gritted my teeth together and ignored him. “I came here to apologize. And to take you home.”

I remained quiet a moment longer, still thinking. Could I really call the Walters’ house home? For a few weeks, it had started to feel something like that, but after what happened at the party and with Lee, I knew it wasn’t.

“Jackie, please say something.”

“Why should I go anywhere with you?” I said in response. “The past two times I’ve done that, it’s ended terribly.”

“Okay, I know I might have hurt your feelings, but—”

“Might?” I demanded, sitting up to glare at him. His words put fuel in my system, like someone struck a match inside my chest, and I narrowed my eyes, trying not to explode. “I lost my family, moved across the country to live with strangers, and was then treated like crap by the likes of you, and you think it might have hurt my feelings?”

Instead of lashing out like I thought he would, Cole hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“What?” I asked, putting a hand to my ear. “I can’t hear you.” “I’m sorry. I was a jerk.”

“Oh, a jerk?” I snapped. If this was his apology, he was doing a lousy job. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Cole.”

Cole’s nostrils flared, but he didn’t show any other signs of his rage. “Hey, I’m trying to apologize here, okay?” When I didn’t respond, he took a deep breath. “I suppose I was jealous,” he finally said, looking down at the shaggy carpet.

“Jealous?” I echoed.

“Yeah.” He sounded hesitant, as if he wasn’t sure of his answer. Then he continued, “Of Alex.”

“What about Erin, Olivia, all those girls?”

“That’s just it,” Cole said, his fists clenching in frustration. “I don’t like any of those girls. It’s just—I don’t know. I feel like my friends have this expectation of who I am and how I should act. And then there’s Alex, and things just come so naturally to him.”

I laughed. “Things come natural to nerdy Alex, but not to superstar Cole?” I said bitterly.

“Yeah,” he said, looking right at me. “When it comes to relationships they do. He just acts like himself and everything goes so perfectly.”

“Perfectly?” I said. “You mean like with Mary?”

“Listen,” Cole said, holding up his hands. “I know that I can be a dick, but I swear, I would never do something like that to Alex. She told me that he dumped her. As soon as I found it was the other way around, I told her to get lost.”

I didn’t know what to say to this.

“Jackie,” Cole continued. “I shouldn’t have dragged you and your feelings into this, but I saw how close you and Alex were getting, and I just didn’t want to—” He paused, trying to think of the best way to phrase when he was saying. “I was selfish and afraid of being—”

“Alone?” I finished for him.

“Yeah,” Cole said, nodding his head. “I was afraid of being alone.” “Welcome to my life,” I told him sadly.

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