Chapter no 13

My Life with the Walter Boys

It took Cole half an hour of coaxing before he convinced me to leave Will’s. On the ride back to the ranch, I asked how Nathan was doing.

“He’s okay,” Cole said, taking his eyes off the road to glance at me. “He was asking for you.”

I didn’t respond to that. I felt guilty that I hadn’t been there for Nathan. “I can take you to see him tomorrow if you want.”

“Sure,” I said curtly, and after that, Cole got the message that I didn’t want to talk. I was still furious with him, but I didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. When the truck was finally parked in the Walters’ driveway, I opened the door and shot out.

“Wait, Jackie!” Cole called, but I was already rushing to my room.

Part of me wanted to go to Alex and Nathan’s room. Over the past month, the half-messy, half-clean space was where I spent most of my time. It had become a type of retreat, a place where I felt comfortable, and the posters on the walls were as familiar as the mural in my own room. But Alex would be there. Not only that, but he was probably still mad at me, and all I wanted was to be alone.

For the most part, the Walters let me be. Everyone except Katherine came home from the hospital at lunchtime, yet the house remained calm. Still reeling from the shock of Nathan’s accident, none of the kids were their usual rambunctious selves. At one point in the afternoon Parker knocked on my door looking for Jack and Jordan, but even she wasn’t in the mood to give me one of her signature sneers.

I didn’t go down to the kitchen for lunch or dinner, but at seven someone knocked on my door. Alex nudged it open with his shoulder. He was carrying a tray with a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

“You hungry?” he asked, gesturing down at the food.

Even though I was surprised to see him, I barely moved from my spot on the bed. The day’s events had left me mentally drained, and all I could manage was a shrug. My stomach felt empty, but not because I needed food.

“Well, can I come in?” “I suppose.”

Alex crossed the room carefully so he wouldn’t spill the soup, and after setting it down on my desk, he stood at the side of my bed with his hands shoved into his pockets. His mouth opened as if he was going to say something but closed again as he changed his mind. I knew he was looking for the right way to start a conversation, but I wasn’t going to help him. I remained silent, watching him patiently.

At last he said, “Jackie, I’m super sorry.” Alex looked just as worn out as I felt. All the usual color was drained from his face, and for some reason that made me believe him. I wasn’t any less stunned, though.

“Two apologies in one day?” I asked, also referring to Cole. “Who’s the miracle worker around here?” The sarcasm came out accidentally, but it was warranted. Both boys were being bipolar, like Jekyll and Hyde. Yesterday they hated me, and now they wanted my forgiveness.

Alex’s shoulders went stiff. “Nathan,” he answered.

“Really? Do tell.” I had a hard time believing that, considering he’d just had a seizure.

“When he realized you weren’t at the hospital, he got angry. He asked to speak with Cole and me alone, and then he yelled at us,” Alex said. “Like, really loudly. I swear, one of the nurses nearly had a panic attack when she heard him shouting.”

It was hard to picture Nathan in a hospital bed with an IV in his arm while he reprimanded his older brothers, but the thought made my lips curl

in satisfaction. “And what did Nathan say?”

By now, Alex’s face was a deep red. “That I was a complete idiot if I actually thought you were trying to hurt me,” he mumbled.

“Pretty accurate for someone with a head injury,” I said. At that point, I was past being polite. The fact that Alex had so willingly believed Cole’s performance upset me all over again. Did he really think I was that cruel?

“I’m sorry.” He hung his head. “I know it’s not a good excuse, but I was really upset that you didn’t come to the party, and on top of that, I was drinking. Then all of a sudden you showed up with him, and I just couldn’t think straight.”

“You know the only thing on my mind when Cole dragged me into that party?” The truth was flying off my lips before I even thought about what I was telling him.

“No,” Alex said tentatively. “What?” “What is Alex going to think?”

“Are you trying to make me feel worse?”

“No,” I said, softening the tone of my voice. “I just want you to know that I was.”

“Was what?” “Thinking of you.”

The truth was, ever since our kiss, the thought of Alex made my stomach flutter. The frustrating part was that I couldn’t work out why. There was no denying that Alex was good looking—he had one of those adorable smiles that could make anyone grin—but I never felt that whole body-on-fire thing around him, like I did when I was near a certain someone else. At the same time, Alex was caring and dependable. I felt like he was someone I had known for my entire life, like I was home.

“I was horrible,” he said, shaking his head like he couldn’t believe it himself. When I didn’t respond, he looked up at me. “Do you think you’ll be able to forgive me?”

“I do forgive you, Alex. I understand that you weren’t purposely trying to be mean to me. You saw Cole and me together, and you thought that

whole thing with Mary was happening all over again.” At this he said, “But?”

“But it happened yesterday. The wound is still a little raw.”

“Right,” Alex said, biting his lip. We were both quiet for a moment, but then he perked up. “Can I try to make it up to you?”

“It depends,” I responded with the smallest of smiles. “What’s the proposal?”

“Well, once we got back from the hospital, I went to the library,” he said, grabbing a movie case off the tray that I hadn’t noticed until now. “After the party last night I couldn’t sleep, so I finished reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I rented one of the film adaptations thinking maybe we could watch it together.”

It was so thoughtful that I finally let myself grin. “I guess that wouldn’t be too painful,” I said, pretending to be indifferent.

“Awesome, where’s your laptop?”

It didn’t take long for Alex to set up the movie and settle onto my bed. When the opening act began he was still tense, and his whole body went stiff when I accidentally bumped his shoulder, but once the action of the play started, he relaxed. By the end of the movie, my head was resting on his chest.

“So what’d ya think?” I asked, when the credits came on.

“Hmm?” Alex’s fingers were running through my hair, and every time he took a breath I felt his chest rise and fall.

“Did you like it?”

“Honestly,” he said, his hand coming to a rest, “I didn’t pay much attention.”

“What?” I sat up so I could look at him. “Why not?”

“Because something else was distracting me,” he said. Before I could ask him what, he went on. “Can we talk about something?”

A worried expression covered his face, but his hand reached up again to touch my hair and he tucked my bangs behind my ear. I felt the calluses on his fingers as they glided over my skin and I shivered. It was like part of me

knew what he was going to say, and as I nodded, my heart started to pound in my chest. The room was so quiet that I was positive he could hear it.

“Jackie,” he began, and his voice was serious, as if he were giving an important speech. I watched his lips move as he said my name. In the light of my room, they looked smooth and sculpted, and they left me thinking about that day on the beanbags. “I know this is going to be a stupid question, but I have to try anyway. At that party, when I saw you standing with Cole, the reason I was so pissed wasn’t just because of the whole Mary thing. I was mad at myself for being too late. I thought Cole beat me to it.”

“I don’t understand the question.”

“Hold on, I’m getting to that.” At this, he took a breath. “What I’m trying to say is that I should have asked you this the other day—you know, after we played Mario Kart.” He paused again, his face going red. Then in a rush he said, “Jackie, will you be my girlfriend?”

There it was, the question I’d feared since our kiss because I didn’t know how to respond. But now that I heard it, I suddenly knew what my decision was. There was something so comforting about being with Alex. He was someone I could let my guard down around. Last night at the party I thought I had lost that, and now I wasn’t going to give it up again.

I answered him with my lips.


I was almost positive that Parker was stalking me the next morning. Normally she made an effort to avoid me, sometimes even leaving a room if I came in, but at breakfast she sat down right next to me. While I was in the bathroom straightening my hair, she came in and spent ten minutes brushing her teeth. Later that day, I opened my bedroom door and found her lingering in the hallway.

I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow. “What are you up to, Parker?” She smirked, and two dimples appeared on her cheeks. “Waiting.”

“For what?” I asked.

“The wrath of Cole,” was her only response, and I had no clue what she meant until I heard the fighting. “Oh man,” Parker complained when she heard the angry shouts. “I was hoping he was going to go all Hulk on you, not Alex.”

She rushed down the stairs toward the sound of the voices, and I followed quickly after her, but by the time we reached the living room George was already pulling Cole and Alex apart.

“What is wrong with you two?” he demanded, glaring at both of his sons. He had a tight grip on both of their shirts as he held them away from each other. Alex was sporting a bloody lip but had a smug smile on his face, while Cole looked like he was going to explode.

“He started it,” Alex said. “Went all crazy and just attacked me out of nowhere. No clue what I did to piss him off.” From the pleased tone of his voice, I knew Alex wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Well?” George asked, turning to Cole. “Is that true?” “He was being a punk.”

“And that counts as a good reason to punch your brother? God, Cole, I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately,” George said and shook his head. “If this happens again, you’re going to be mucking the horse stalls for the next month. You hear me?”

Cole nodded his head and George released both boys. When he was gone, Cole got right back up in Alex’s face. “You think you’re so cool now, don’t you?” he hissed. “Just remember, you only took the first round. We both know from experience that I always win.”

The grin on Alex’s face faltered, and I saw something dark flash in his eyes.

“Guys?” I asked hesitantly, but as soon as Cole heard my voice he was gone, storming out of the room without another word.

“Dammmnn,” I heard Lee say.

Turning around, I found that most of the boys had gathered behind me to watch the scene.

“Shit,” Isaac hissed back. “Wasn’t expecting that.”

“You lose,” Lee told his brother. “Pay up.”

Isaac dug into his pocket for his wallet. He pulled out a twenty and slapped it into his brother’s hand with a scowl. Danny was standing next to him, and I noticed that his usually blank face was covered in surprise. It gave me the feeling that this fight was somehow my fault, and as dread started to lace my veins, I went over to him.

“What the heck just happened?” I whispered.

Danny shook his head, and I thought that he wasn’t going to tell me, but then he grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me out onto the deck where we wouldn’t be overheard. He explained that last night, Alex had bragged about me being his girlfriend to everyone except Cole. It was like he was purposely trying to entice his older brother, and when Cole found out in the morning, Alex got the reaction he was looking for.

Cole was furious, and he spent the rest of Sunday out in the garage, working on his car.

The next day at school, Alex was no better. When class ended and we walked out of anatomy together, he pulled me against his locker and kissed me hard, his hand weaving behind my back so he could hold me against his body. In the moment, I thought he was being romantic, but when he pulled away, I caught him glancing over my shoulder. Following his gaze, I saw Mary standing with her group of friends, a killer glare on her face.

Lunchtime was a headache. Riley, Heather, and Skylar bombarded Alex and me with questions the moment we sat down. They grilled us for the entire thirty minutes that we had to eat, and while Alex didn’t seem to mind, I just wanted the news of us dating to die down so things could go back to how they used to be. Kim, the only one I could count on to act normal, never showed up.

By the time school was over, I was so exhausted that I took a nap, something that I never allowed myself to do. I ended up sleeping for so long that when it was time to actually go to bed, I couldn’t fall asleep. That’s why, even thought it was well past midnight, I sat straight up in bed when I heard the knock on my door.

“Jackie, you still awake?” Alex whispered, peeking in. “Uh-huh,” I answered.

“Can I come in?” he asked again even more quietly. “Yeah, sure,” I said, sitting up. “What’s up?”

He closed the door quietly and tiptoed over to my bed. I looked at the clock. It was already midnight.

“Do you have any black clothes?” Alex asked me. “Somewhere in my closet,” I said, nodding my head. “Why?”

“You’re going to have to dig them out,” he said, a grin spreading across his face.

“What for?” I asked, but I headed over to my closet anyway. I searched through a few long-sleeved shirts until I found my old Hawks sweater with my name stitched into the pocket.

“The guys all voted, and we decided to let you come along on our little end-of-the-year tradition.”

“And that is?” I asked, pulling on black pants. “We always toilet-paper the principal’s house.”


“Shhhh,” Isaac whispered as everyone crowded into Lee’s and his room later. Alex explained that his cousins’ room was the best for sneaking out because of the giant oak tree right by the window.

“All right, does everyone have their roll of toilet paper?” Cole asked, looking around at everyone—everyone except me.

“Yup,” Danny answered, holding up a roll. “I also grabbed that box of plastic forks that Mom was going to use for our graduation party so we can fork the yard.”

“Awesome!” Lee said, high-fiving his cousin.

“Hey, Jackie, what the heck is on your face?” Alex whispered, looking at me.

“War paint,” I answered him, pulling a pencil of black eyeliner out of my pocket. “Want some?”

“Heck yes,” he said, grinning. I pulled the cap off with a pop and slowly began to draw two black lines, one under each of Alex’s eyes.

“Hey,” Isaac said, looking at us, “I want some too!” “Okay,” I said, smiling. “Anyone else?”

Everyone nodded their heads yes and waited for me to add the war paint.

The only person who didn’t want it was Cole.

“That’s so lame,” he said when I asked him if he wanted some. Hurt, I shoved the pencil back in my pocket and turned away from him.

“All right, everyone,” Isaac said, trying to fill the awkward silence. “Down the tree and out to the truck.”

Danny nodded his head and pushed open the window before climbing out and down the tree.

“Watch how he does it,” Alex said, pointing out where his brother placed his feet and hands to climb down.

“Okay, next!” Danny half shouted, half whispered when he was down. Cole quickly scrambled out the window, followed by Lee, then Isaac. “Ready?” Alex asked me as I stepped up to the windowsill. I could feel

the chilly night air drifting in, and I buttoned my sweater up for warmth. “I guess,” I said nervously.

“Don’t worry. It’s easy,” he told me. Nodding my head, I hiked a foot up and out the window. Then I pulled myself up and carefully grabbed onto a branch. “It’s okay. Keep going,” Alex said.

Taking a deep breath, I scooted off the windowsill and clung to the tree.

Slowly I lowered my left foot onto the thick branch below it.

“We don’t have all night,” someone grumbled from below. It sounded like Cole.

“Don’t worry about him,” Alex whispered. “He’s just being pissy.”

Alex helped me down the tree by telling me where to put my feet. When they finally hit the soft grass, we headed over to where the rest of the guys were standing.

“Took long enough,” Cole said when Alex finally dumped the bag of toilet paper into the back of the truck.

“Just shut up, Cole,” Alex said with a scowl.

“Can you two both chill for a minute?” Isaac said to them. “You guys can have this argument when we get back, but I’d like to get out of here without getting caught.”

Cole and Alex glared at each other, but both stayed silent. “We need to push the truck to the road,” Danny said. “Push it?” I asked, surprised. It was going to be so heavy.

“Yeah, Mom can hear everything,” he said. “So, if we want to get out of here, we can’t start it until it’s on the road.”

Everyone got behind Fox, the name the guys had dubbed the red truck. “Fox?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Isaac said with a grin. “Our truck is hot, like Megan Fox.” I rolled my eyes as most of the guys tried to hold in their laughter.

“All right, guys. One, two, three!” Cole instructed. Everyone pushed, and it only took us a few minutes to get Megan down the Walters’ long driveway.

“Whoo!” Alex shouted once the truck was on the street. “Let’s go.”

Everyone climbed in, Cole started the truck, and then we were off into the night.


“All right, Isaac, Danny. You take the backyard,” Cole said, throwing the black duffel bag on the ground. He quickly unzipped it and threw them both rolls of toilet paper. We were all standing outside Principal McHale’s three-story house. It was a good distance from the road, and there was lots of tree coverage, but Cole had parked the truck a block back just in case.

“It’s huge,” I whispered to Alex who was standing next to me. “There are so many trees.”

Alex nodded his head with a smile. “It’s perfect for a good TP.” “You guys are being too loud,” Cole hissed, looking at me. “Fine, Mr. Boss Man. Give me a job to do,” Alex said.

Cole tossed him the box of forks. “Someone has to fork the lawn,” he said.

“I’ll go too,” I said, linking arms with Alex. I didn’t want to be left alone with Cole and Lee.

“I don’t think so,” Cole said, grabbing my arm as we started to head away. “I have the perfect job for you.”

A few minutes later, I stood staring up at the back balcony.

“No way in hell am I doing that,” I said, crossing my arms. “You’re crazy.”

“We need someone light to do it,” Cole said. “Nathan normally does, but considering he’s temporarily out of service…”

“Oh fine!” I said and snatched the roll from him. “There’s a good girl,” Cole said, pinching my cheek.

“Screw you,” I told him before spinning around and grabbing the rose trellis.

“Just be careful it doesn’t break,” Cole told me as I tested my weight on the lowest wooden beam. When I was sure it wouldn’t, I began to pull myself up. It was like climbing a ladder.

“Ouch!” I yelled as I pricked my finger on a rose thorn.

“Shut up!” Cole hissed from below. “Do you want to be caught? That’s their bedroom patio up there.”

“Yeah, I know. You already told me like fifty times,” I whispered, sucking the little drop of blood from my finger. “It would have been nice if you’d given me gloves.”

“Stop being a baby and start climbing,” he shot back at me.

I gritted my teeth and held back my response. When I finally made it to the top, I quietly hauled myself over the railing. The sliding glass door to the balcony had a curtain covering it, but my heart started to pound. I felt like everyone inside the house could see and hear me moving around, so I rapidly started to throw the white paper everywhere.

“Make sure you weave it in and out of the railing,” I heard Cole call up to me.

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered to myself. If he was going to be so demanding, he should have come up here and done it himself.

“Jackie? Did you hear me? Do the railing.” Glancing back down, I saluted him mockingly.

After wrapping the railing, I moved back to admire my handiwork. As I did, I tripped over the extra roll of toilet paper and fell back into the balcony door. I scrambled back up to my feet as my heart leaped in my chest. I held my breath from a moment, waiting to see if anyone had heard me. Principal McHale was probably inside right now, a few feet away sleeping.

When nothing happened, I let the air hiss out of my lungs, but it was too soon. A siren filled the night air and my eyes bulged. The house had a burglar alarm. For a moment I was frozen still, until I heard yelling on the lawn.

“What the hell, Cole?” Lee shouted. “What is she doing up there?” “Jackie! Get down!” Alex yelled over the sound of the alarm. It helped

unfreeze my mind, and I quickly vaulted over the balcony railing and onto the rose trellis.

“Come on, faster,” someone shouted.

I was almost to the ground when I heard a rip. My sweater was caught on the trellis by the sleeve.

“Jackie, we need to go now!” Isaac said.

“I can’t. I’m stuck!” I cried, trying to pull my sleeve away. “Who’s out there?” a deep voice called from the patio door. “Just take it off,” Alex said.

I tried to shrug out of it, but I was shaking too hard. Suddenly Cole was by my side, and he yanked me from the fabric.

“Come on,” he said, jumping down to the ground.

“But my sweater,” I said turning back to the rose trellis. “It’s still stuck.” “Leave it. I’ll buy you a new one.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me

into the cover of the trees.

“Damn kids!” someone yelled into the night.

Everyone ran as fast as they could back to the truck. When we got there, I was gasping for air.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Alex demanded and shoved Cole into the side of the truck. “You did that on purpose. You wanted her to get caught, didn’t you?”

“But she didn’t get caught, did she?” Cole asked. There was a smug smile on his face.

“She shouldn’t have been up there in the first place!” Alex yelled. “Just because you’re jealous doesn’t mean—”

“Wait!” I said, cutting them off. I could feel my heart sinking. “You don’t normally toilet-paper the balcony?”

“Are you crazy?” Isaac said as Danny shook his head. “That’s insane.

We don’t want to get caught.”

But I wasn’t really listening to him. My eyes were on Cole, watching the way he reacted. His forehead was bunched together in a frown as if he thought everyone was blowing the situation out of proportion.

“Why would you lie to me?” I asked him. I spoke softly and slowly to keep my voice from cracking. But it didn’t matter—my question was filled with the ring of betrayal. If Principal McHale had seen me, it could have been the end to my Princeton dream and everything that followed after. Cole knew the importance I placed on school and my future, yet he purposely jeopardized it. I could feel the anger building up inside my chest, but then I made a terrifying realization. Tonight, I risked my future just as much as Cole did. Nobody forced me up the trellis. I climbed up all on my own. What had gotten into me lately? Never in my life had I ever been so reckless.

Cole crossed his arms. “It was just a joke,” he said. “Stop acting like someone died.”

Beside me, I heard Danny gasp. I didn’t turn to see the other boys’ reactions—I was focused on Cole, searching his icy gaze to see if he’d purposely meant what he said. How could he be so insensitive?

“That was totally out of line,” Alex said, breaking the silence as he stepped in front of me to face Cole. “Apologize to Jackie.”

“Oh, piss off,” Cole said, dismissing his brother with the wave of his hand.

Apologize,” Alex said again.

“And if I don’t want to? What are you going to do?”

“This,” Alex told Cole before slamming his fist into his brother’s nose.

Cole stumbled back, crashing into the side of the truck. Alex rushed after him, but Isaac reacted quickly, jumping in to grab Alex’s arms before he could land another hit. Before Cole could regain his focus, Danny stepped in and wrapped his arms around his twin to hold him back.

I should have seen the punch coming. It was long overdue. Alex and Cole were fighting before I arrived in Colorado, but I was a catalyst that instigated a full-out war.

“What the hell?” Cole roared, trying to break free from Danny.

It took a while for everyone to calm down, especially Cole. The other boys seemed just as mad at Cole as he was at us, and they voted to make him walk home. Thankfully, I convinced them to change their minds. I was upset about what Cole said, his words a slap across the face, but I knew things would get worse if we let him fester in anger. We all piled back into the truck, Danny taking the wheel. Cole sat in the front seat nursing his injury and swore at anyone who talked to him. I was in the back, sitting as far away as possible.

“That was awesome,” Isaac said, still laughing. “I mean really, it was the best part of the night. I’ve never seen Cole get decked so hard.”

“Yeah,” Danny agreed. “I wish I had Jack and Jordan’s camera.”

“You better shut your mouth, or you’re going to wish you never said anything at all,” Cole grumbled. Everyone laughed except me.

“Hey, Jackie, you all right?” Alex whispered in my ear. I shook my head no. “What’s wrong? I probably shouldn’t have punched Cole, but didn’t it make you feel a little bit better?”

“My sweater is back there,” I said, trying not to cry. After climbing into the truck, I couldn’t stop replaying the entire night in my head. I had remembered something incredibly important.

“So?” Alex said, shrugging, “It’s just a sweater.”

I turned to Alex with watery eyes. “It has my name on it.”

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