Chapter no 14

My Life with the Walter Boys

The sun was pouring through my windows in the morning, and I rolled over with a groan. Every part of my body was sore, and I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep.

My alarm was going off, but I let it screech as I tried to remember why I was so tired. When I spotted my muddy shoes on the floor, everything came rushing back to me and I slapped my clock off angrily. Getting out of bed was the last thing I wanted to do, but I let my bare feet hit the cold wooden floor and I padded down to the bathroom.

Frustrated with Cole, myself, and everything else, I squeezed the toothpaste tube a bit too hard and blue goo shot all over, squirting over the side of my brush.

“Damn it,” I said grumpily as I flicked the excess toothpaste off into the sink.

As I brushed my teeth, I thought about the day to come. I bet I would be called down to the office during the day. All the receptionists would glare at me with disapproving looks. Then I would be led back to the principal’s office where he would be waiting behind a big wooden desk, my black sweater in hand. My future was ruined.

I’m sorry, Mom, I thought to myself.

Sighing, I spit out the toothpaste and quickly splashed some water on my face. After grabbing my robe, I turned off the lights and headed back to my room. When I stepped inside, I gasped in surprise. Sitting on the end of my bed was my sweater.

I rushed downstairs and flung my arms around Alex. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I kissed him on the cheek.

“You’re welcome?” Alex answered, somewhat confused. “You don’t understand how relieved I feel,” I told him. “Relieved about what exactly?” Alex asked me.

“My sweater,” I said, holding it up. “I just can’t believe you went all the way back out there to get it for me.” Alex stared at me and didn’t say anything. “You did go get it, right?” I asked him.

“Well, now I’m really wishing I’d thought of that,” he said, sounding disappointed in his answer, “but no, I didn’t.”

I turned my head to the other boys in the kitchen. My eyes searched Cole’s face for an answer, but he raised his eyebrows, as if to say retrieving my jacket was the last thing in the world he would do.

“Danny?” I asked. He looked up from the morning paper with an apologetic look and shook his head no.

“You?” I asked, turning to Isaac.

“Sorry, Jackie,” he mumbled through a mouthful of cornflakes. “Then who?” I asked out loud.

“Isaac,” Katherine said, coming into the kitchen with a coffee mug in hand. “Can you wake up your brother? I can’t believe he’s still sleeping.”

“Sure thing, Aunt Katherine,” he said, getting up and putting his cereal bowl in the sink.

“Lee?” I wondered out loud.

“No, dork,” Isaac said and rolled his eyes. “My other brother.”

During the car ride to school, all the guys chatted about the end-of-the-year party they always hosted. They planned on having it this weekend when Katherine and George were out of town. I listened quietly and watched Lee from my spot in the backseat, trying to understand why he, of all people, went back to get my jacket. Lee was the only one who didn’t seem excited about the party. Maybe it was because he had his face pressed up against the passenger-side window, half asleep.

“All right, everyone out,” Cole said when we pulled into the parking lot.

I quickly opened the door and grabbed my bag from the back. “Ready?” Alex asked me when he retrieved his.

“Just go without me,” I said, still watching Lee slowly unbuckle his seat belt. “I’ll catch up later. There’s something I have to do.”

“Okay,” Alex said before kissing me on the cheek and heading into school.

As I expected, Lee was the last person out of the car, being as tired as he was. By the time he grabbed his backpack from the truck bed, the rest of the guys had already gone. He didn’t even notice me leaning against the back of truck as he slung his bag over his shoulder.

“Lee,” I said as he started to walk away. He stopped for a second but then continued to walk. “Lee!” I called again. When he didn’t turn around, I ran after him and grabbed his arm. “I know you heard me.” I spun him around.

He just stared at me with a blank look.

“Well?” I asked him, hoping he would spill the answer to my unasked question.

“Well, what?” he said, shaking my hand off his shoulder. “You know,” I told him.

“No, I don’t,” he said before turning and walking away.

I stood rooted in my spot for a moment, shocked. What was his deal?

Why would he do something nice for me and then pretend he didn’t?

“Lee, why did you go get my sweater for me?” I shouted. My question made him stop. For a moment he just stood there, his back to me, and then I realized he was waiting for me to catch up. “Why?” I asked again when I was standing right next to him. “I know you don’t like me.”

“Jackie,” he said, looking right at me. “Just pretend it never happened, okay?”

The bell rang, signaling we needed to head to first hour. “No,” I said sternly. “I want to know why you did it.”

“We’re going to be late for first period,” he said, starting to climb the steps.

“I don’t care,” I told him, surprising myself. “I know you don’t either.” “Fine,” he grumbled. Lee led me to the back of the school and over to a

cluster of trees that couldn’t be seen from any of the building windows.

“Is this a part of some secret plan to kill me?” I questioned him as I looked around. We were completely alone.

Lee glanced over his shoulder to glare at me. “This is where I normally come when I don’t feel like going to class.”


“Has anyone told you about my parents?” he asked me then. “Your parents?”

“Yeah, the reason why Isaac and I live with my aunt and uncle.”

“No,” I said, not knowing where this conversation was going. I’d always wondered what happened to their parents, but truthfully, I was too afraid to ask.

“My mom left right after I was born,” he told me. “I never even met her.” I kept my mouth shut, waiting for him to continue. “Her leaving messed my dad up pretty bad. He’s an Army officer, and instead of raising Isaac and me, he dumped us with his brother and went overseas. We only see him every few years.”

I put a hand to my mouth to cover my surprise, but Lee wasn’t looking at me. His gaze was focused on the sky. What he was telling me was almost worse than what happened to my family. Even though they were gone, at least I knew that they loved me.

We sat in silence for a while and the almost-summer sun warmed my skin. “Lee, I’m so sorry,” I finally said.

“You know? You’re probably the first person to actually mean that,” he said.

“Really?” I asked him.

“I’ve heard so many people say ‘sorry’ to me, and it’s all fake. They don’t really know what it feels like to not have a family.”

I nodded my head. “You know the worst part, though?” I asked him. “When people look at you differently. I’m no longer Jackie, daughter of the Howards. I’m Jackie, the girl with dead parents.”

“Better than Lee, the boy whose parents couldn’t care less.” “Why do you hate me?” I said then.

“I don’t hate you. It’s just…” Lee sighed and ran a hand through his curly hair, trying to find the right words. “Let’s just say I have mom issues. I never knew mine, and Katherine—it’s hard enough for her to pay attention to all twelve of us. And then you showed up, and my aunt felt so responsible for you that she gave up her studio. I felt like you were stealing the little time I had with her away from me.”

“I don’t know what to say,” I told Lee.

“I wasn’t asking you to,” he said. “I went back and got your sweater because I finally realized that unlike me, you don’t have anyone.” I could tell that he was struggling for the right words. “I was too jealous to understand that you were in just as much pain as me. I was a dick.”

Sighing, I grabbed Lee’s hand. As angry with him as I was for everything he’d put me through, at least he was telling me the truth. “Yeah,” I said, agreeing with him. “You totally were.”

Lee cracked a smile.


Nathan never made me nervous. There was something about our friendship

—something so natural and easy—that I didn’t have with any of the other Walter boys. But today as I walked down the hall toward his room, I had to wipe my hands on the back of my skirt and push away the urge to flee.

Katherine had picked him up from the hospital after we left for school, and when we got home at four o’clock, all the boys rushed up to visit him. He had been required to stay in the hospital for the rest of the week, so most of the guys hadn’t seen him since Saturday. I hung back, patiently waiting for my turn so we could talk in private.

We hadn’t spoken since the morning of his seizure, and I could feel my stomach sloshing back and forth in anticipation. What Lee said to me in the ER was still lodged in the back of my mind. Yes, Monday morning we talked through our issues, but I couldn’t help but think in what if terms. If only I had pulled myself out of bed when Nathan asked me to go running— swallowing my shame and fear of seeing the other boys—then maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty right now.

Outside his room, my knuckles were poised above the door, but then, losing my nerve, I dropped my hand back down to my side. Gentle notes of a new song were being teased out of his guitar, and I could picture Nathan sitting on his bed, eyes closed with the instrument in hand. Maybe I could come back later, sometime when my stomach wasn’t so jittery.

“He’s in there,” someone said as I turned to leave. “You should go talk to him.”

Knowing who it was, I took a deep breath as I looked up. Cole had paused in the middle of the hallway, his face arranged in a tight mask. The bruise around his eye had just started fading to yellow-green.

It was the first sentence had Cole spoken to me since Alex punched him, and in reaction, a flare of resentment danced inside my chest. In truth, I was more ashamed of myself than angry. I couldn’t help but notice the way Cole’s shirt clung snuggly around his biceps, and how, in this moment, his eyes looked bluer than I had ever seen them.

After everything he’d done, how he’d purposely hurt me, I still felt that same flutter inside my chest, the one I’d been trying to figure out since I first arrived in Colorado. It was some type of invisible force, as if he were the sun and I was a tiny planet being reined in by his all-consuming gravity. What had Heather called it? The Cole effect.

“Oh—right,” I said back, as if I hadn’t known. It was all I could manage because suddenly I felt like crying. This feeling was so unfair, unwanted.

Nathan’s song stopped, and I knew he could hear us. Cole’s loud voice had given me away. However, in that moment, my anxiety about seeing Nathan evaporated. I pulled open the door without knocking and slipped

inside. Anything to get away from Cole and the way he was making me feel. Hands wrapped around the doorknob, I leaned back against the wood and took slow, calming breaths.

“Jackie?” I heard Nathan ask.

My eyes snapped open. He was sitting up in bed, a concerned look splashed across his face. And then, as I stared back at him, I realized that it had been completely stupid of me to be nervous.

“Hey, Nate,” I responded, and the feeling of relief cooled my flushed skin.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his eyebrows wrinkling together.

After another lungful of air to calm myself—in through the mouth and out the nose—I responded. “I should be asking you the same thing.” Pushing away from the door, I straightened out my skirt before moving toward his bed. As I sat down, I noticed the square bandage on his forehead from where he hit his head and the dark circles beneath his eyes. “Oh, Nathan,” I said, brushing aside his bangs so I could see the injury better.

“I’m fine,” he said, pushing my hand away. I got the message loud and clear—he didn’t want to talk about what had happened to him.

“You scared everyone pretty badly,” I said anyway. He needed to know that even though I didn’t visit him at the hospital, I was still worried, so I added, “Especially me.”

He was quiet at this, his lips forced together into a line.

“Nathan?” I asked. My voice cracked, revealing the sudden return of my nerves. Maybe he was mad at me.

Finally he looked up. “Did I do something to make you mad?” he asked, a complete mirror of my own thoughts.

“What?” I said, shifting on the bed so I could get a better look at him. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Because I haven’t seen you since…” He paused. “Well, since it happened.”

I reached out again, this time putting my hand on his arm. “God, I’m so sorry, Nathan. It’s just—I couldn’t—” I stopped there, not knowing how to

explain. I gave myself a second before slowly saying, “When the ambulance came, I felt like it was happening all over again. You know, losing someone I cared about. I panicked.”

“Yeah, Cole told me you went to Will’s apartment.” My head shot up. “He mentioned me?”

Nathan nodded. “We had a conversation today,” he said, setting his guitar down so he could move closer to me. “It was strange,” he said, and seeing my puzzled look, he went on. “Not having a conversation, although that was unusual. It was like—I don’t know, he seemed disappointed about something. Confused, even.”

“Confused? About what?”

“I’m not sure exactly. He was careful with his words. Wouldn’t say too much of anything—and that reminds me. Do you know what happened to his eye? I couldn’t even get that out of him.”

“That’s no mystery,” I said, my cheeks going pink. “Alex punched him.” Nathan’s eyebrows shot up on his forehead. “He what?”

“Trust me,” I said, shaking my head at the memory. “Cole deserved it.”

Nathan’s laugh was one of being completely impressed. “Oh, I don’t doubt, but man… I suppose that’s a contributor to why he’s so upset.”

“If by upset, you mean angry? Most definitely.”

“I don’t know,” Nathan said, tapping his finger to his chin. “I wouldn’t call it angry. It was more like he was sad.”

“Sad,” I echoed, trying to grasp the idea. What would Cole have to be sad about?


“Oh no,” Alex said to me, his voice low. “This looks bad.”

The next morning as I peered down the front hallway into the kitchen, I couldn’t help but agree. Katherine was hovering over the table with a finger pressed to her temple. Spread out before her was what looked like a year’s worth of old bills and receipts.

“Watch out,” Isaac said. He was leaning against the counter, eyeing his aunt warily as he waited for a pot of coffee to brew. Alex and I had slipped into the kitchen unnoticed and were standing next to him. “She’s on a rampage.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, opening the fridge to find the creamer.

“The florist for the wedding called today and said they still haven’t received payment,” he explained, pulling two mugs out from the cabinet above his head. “She’s convinced the check was already sent in, so she’s tearing through everything looking for the confirmation slip.”

“That’s not good,” I replied.

But I wasn’t just worried about the florist. Katherine and George were supposed to be leaving for the weekend—their twenty-second wedding anniversary was tomorrow, and George had planned a romantic getaway for the two of them. But with Will and Haley’s wedding looming, Katherine had been more stressed than ever. From the look on her face, I could tell that going on vacation was the last thing on her mind.

“Not at all,” Isaac said, pouring the steaming brown liquid into two cups, one for him and the other for me. “And if you’re looking for the creamer, it’s behind the ketchup.”

With his directions, I located the bottle behind the sugary red sauce, next to the pickle jar. Taking it out, I slid the cream across the counter toward Isaac.

“Grab me a Kickstart, will you?” Alex asked before I shut the door. It wasn’t hard to find one of the bright neon cans, and nose wrinkled, I wrapped my fingers around his favorite form of caffeine. Popping the tab, he chugged half of it in one slip. Seriously, he was going to have a heart attack at the age of twenty.

As I was closing the fridge, a magnet holding a piece of paper caught my eye. “Isaac, you said she’s looking for a confirmation slip?”

“Something like that,” he replied. He was focused on scooping the perfect amount of sugar into his drink.

Upon further inspection, I noticed that someone had arranged a series of alphabet magnets into an insulting sentence. It read: Cole is a dillhole. Under the bright orange letter D was a pink slip, and even though the loopy script was hard to read, I could just make out the word florist. Tugging the plastic magnet away from the fridge, I took the receipt and went over to the table.

“Katherine,” I asked, holding it out for her to see, “is this what you’re looking for?” At first, when her eyes glanced over the paper in my hand, I thought she was going to burst into tears. Instead, I was pulled into a tight hug.

“You, my dear, are a lifesaver,” she said. Then, taking a deep breath, she pulled out her phone and punched in a number.

“What’s going on?” Cole asked, noticing the mess on the table as he and Danny stumbled into the kitchen still half asleep. Nathan wasn’t far behind them, a tuft of hair sticking up at the back of his head as he stretched.

“Wedding crisis,” Alex responded, crushing the empty Kickstart can between his hands. “It’s been averted.”

“Doesn’t look like it,” Nathan said, pulling out one of the barstools and plopping down at the counter. “Hey, Isaac, want to pour me a cup?”

“Since when do you like coffee?” Isaac asked, but he grabbed a third mug anyway.

“I don’t, but my earplugs are missing and Alex was up all night playing that annoying game.”

“Shhh,” Alex said, slapping his brother on the arm as he glanced at Katherine. But his mom didn’t notice as she paced the kitchen floor, talking in a fed-up tone.

“Earplugs?” Isaac asked then. “I think Zack might have had a pair shoved up his nose yesterday.”

“What?” Nathan said, looking pissed. “Why did he do that?”

His cousin only shrugged. “How am I supposed to know what goes on in that kid’s brain? He’s a strange one.”

“Okay, okay. Thank you.” Looking slightly less stressed, Katherine hung up the phone, only to have her moment of peace interrupted by the doorbell. “Oh, they’re early!” she exclaimed, patting down her hair as she ran to the front door. Not long after that, she ushered Will and Haley into the room, both with suitcases clutched between their fingers. “You two are sweethearts for coming on such short notice,” she said, and started sweeping the pile of papers on the table into a manila folder.

“Mom, don’t worry about it,” Will responded as he set down his stuff. “It’s the least we can do.”

At that moment, Jack and Jordan entered the kitchen, and upon seeing Will, they dashed across the floor.

“Will! Will!” they both shouted. “What are you doing here?”

“Spending the weekend. Haley and I are staying over to watch you rug rats while Mom and Dad are on vacation.”

Cole, who was chugging out of the OJ container, sprayed a mouthful of juice down his shirt. “What?” he demanded, turning to his mom. “Why does he need to be here? I’m eighteen.”

“Cole, did you honestly think I would leave you in charge?” Katherine asked, half distracted. One of the kitchen drawers was pulled open, and she was rummaging through the files inside. “Where is it?” she said to herself. “I swear I put it here.”

“Darling,” George said, as he slid open the back door. From the sweat glistening on his face, I could tell that he had been doing work around the ranch. “Are you still looking for the florist’s receipt? We need to leave soon and you’re not packed.”

“What?” Will asked, giving his mother a look. “You’re not packed? Go get ready.”

“Will,” Katherine said, not bothering to look up. “I don’t think you understand how much I still need to get done for the wedding. It’s less than two weeks away, and I don’t know if I have the time to go on this vacation.” I didn’t doubt it. In the past month, Will had stopped by to help with the arrangements, but since Katherine was hosting the backyard wedding, she

was the one with the most work.

“Then give us something to do,” Will said.

“Yes,” Haley said a moment later. “We’d love to help.”

“That’s really sweet of you both, but these are things that I need to get done myself.”

“Kitty,” George said, sounding exasperated. “Let the kids help. We’ve been planning this trip for a while.”

“And I’ve been planning this wedding for the past sixteen months! I will not let it be a total catastrophe.”

“Mom,” said Will, coming up behind his mother to give her a hug. “I think you need to relax.”

She shrugged him off. “How can I relax when I have a to-do list that’s a million miles long?” she cried, pulling her hair.

“Katherine,” I said, trying to get her attention.

She was back to riffling through the drawer, even though the thing she was searching for hadn’t been there the first time she looked. “I’m just too busy,” she muttered again.

“Katherine!” I said, raising my voice. Everyone looked at me, but I ignored the surprised expressions, choosing to focus solely on Mrs. Walter. She was starting to slip into panic mode, a habit I recognized from my mother, and I needed to calm her down before she broke down completely. Her head turned at the sound of my voice, and as if in a daze, she looked at me with her mouth half open.

“What do you have to do?” I asked her, my voice slow but direct. “Pardon?” she asked.

I rephrased my question. “What needs to get done so you’ll feel comfortable leaving for vacation?”

“Oh well, I don’t know if that will be possible. The seating chart has to be arranged and ceremony programs need to be typed up. Honey, I don’t understand why you want to know—”

“No,” I said, cutting her off. “Just keep talking.”

“All right,” she said hesitantly. “I still can’t find the…” And she dove into a mental catalog of all her different chores.

“Someone pen me,” I muttered, holding out my hand as she continued to list the tasks. Nathan responded, slapping the ballpoint from his pocket into my hand. Grabbing the morning paper, I started to scribble a list on the edge of an article. It wasn’t as neatly organized as one of my own to-do lists, but it would suffice.

When he realized what I was doing, George directed his wife to one of the kitchen chairs and made her sit down, keeping his hands clamped firmly on her shoulders. Then he told everyone else to sit down.

“Listen up, crew,” I said a few minutes later, after reading over everything I’d written down. “This is how it’s going to work.” I looked from one Walter boy to the next to make sure they were paying attention. “Cole and Isaac—you have yard duty. The lawn has to be mowed, the hedges need to be trimmed, and the garden is in desperate need of weeding. Jack and Jordan, since you’re good with editing, you’re in charge of putting together the picture slide show of Will and Haley for the reception. No funny business either because I’m going to look over it when you’re done. Danny, someone needs to pick up Haley’s dress from the boutique, and Nathan, I want you to call all the vendors and reconfirm arrival times.”

When I was done talking, everyone stared at me. “Are you all deaf?” I demanded. “Come on. We have work to do.”

All the boys scrambled to their feet.

“Amazing,” Alex said, once everyone was out of the kitchen.

“That was nothing,” I told him. He had never seen me in my glory days, organizing one of my mother’s fashion shows or charities.

“Is there anything left for me to do?” Katherine asked, looking uncertain. “I could write out the placeholders—”

“Yes, Katherine,” I said, pulling her to her feet and shoving her out of the kitchen. “Go pack. You have a vacation to enjoy.”


“I bet Cole is totally pissed right now,” Alex told me later that day. We were in his room, and I was snuggled down into the pillows on his bed. I could smell the detergent that Katherine used to clean the sheets, along with Alex’s musky scent. My anatomy book was propped up in front of me, and we were supposed to be studying together. But as soon as Alex heard the garage door close, indicating that his parents had left for vacation, he’d logged on to his computer to play GoG.

“How come?” I asked, flipping to the end of the chapter to see how many more pages I had to read.

“We always throw an end-of-the-year party. It was supposed to be tonight, but with Will babysitting, I don’t know if it will happen.”

“But what about exams?”

“What about them? We have the next two weeks to study.”

“Okay. So what’s he going to do?” I asked, even though the prospect of a party made me nervous.

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know, but he’ll think of something. There’s no way Cole will turn down a chance to show off.”

I tried to go back to studying then. If there was going to be party, I knew Riley, Heather, and the rest of the gang would want to come over and I would get nothing done. After ten minutes of rereading the same passage, I slammed my book shut, unable to concentrate with the annoying music coming from Alex’s computer.

“Alex, do you have to play that right now?”

“Yup,” he said, grinning at me. Somehow, even though I was slightly annoyed, his smile made my stomach flutter. Alex was too cute for his own good. “And now that you’re my girlfriend, you should start playing GoG too.”

I snorted. “I have no problem with your obsession, but online gaming isn’t really my thing.”

“But think about how much fun it would be. We could conquer the entire continent of RuWariah together.”

“Shouldn’t you be more focused on studying?” I didn’t have a clue what the RooWar place was, but I knew that I had no desire to conquer it. “Two weeks of studying isn’t much.” Knowing Alex, he wouldn’t even start studying until the weekend before. That would leave him with no time to properly prepare. The thought made me nauseous.

“Jackie, stop worrying so much.”

“We only have fourteen days,” I pointed out. “Come on, Alex. I saw your grade on the last anatomy test. You’re going to need at least a ninety on the exam to even think about getting a B in the class.”

“That’s okay. I’m fine with a C.”

At this, I felt uncomfortable. How could he be so unconcerned about not doing his best? “Well,” I said, taking a different approach. “We need to start thinking about where we’ll apply for college. If you want to get into a good school, your transcript will need to be polished.”

“That’s not a problem. I’ll just go to the local community college like Will.”

“But don’t you want to go somewhere more…prestigious?” “Like where? Yale? Jackie, my parents can’t afford that.” “But if you worked hard and got good grades—”

“I’m a geek, not a brainiac. No school is going to give me a scholarship,” he said. Three seconds later, “Argh! Damn these undead priests that keep respawning.” His fingers were pounding away at the keyboard, his eyes glued to the screen.

I became quiet. I didn’t understand how Alex could be okay with settling for less than the best. Snapping my textbook shut, I untangled myself from the bed and stood up. Yes, living with the Walters had taught me how to loosen up, but that didn’t mean I was going to let my grades go slack.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder.

“Um—yeah, fine,” I said, picking my way across the littered carpet. “I’m going to head back to my room. I really need to finish reading these chapters before tonight.”

Alex swung around in his computer chair. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

I offered him the best smile I could muster. “Just nervous about these next two weeks. Don’t worry about me.”

“Well, are you going to come to the party?”

If I could avoid it, then no, but something told me that wouldn’t happen. “Of course,” I told him.

“Awesome. See you then.”


Sure enough, four hours later, I was watching my friends get ready for the party.

“Tonight is going to be to die for, y’all!” Riley gushed, sounding more twangy than usual.

She was stationed in front of the small mirror in my room, attempting to do her makeup. As Alex predicted, Cole was able to convince Will to let him have the party. From what I had heard, it hadn’t been too hard, considering Will was the original creator of the Walter end-of-the-year bash. Also, Cole reminded Will of how many times he’d covered for his older brother during high school when he had snuck out of the house.

“Have you ever been so excited about something in your whole life?” Heather asked, being her usual dramatic self. She was rummaging through my closet, looking for something to wear. “Jackie, are you planning on wearing this, or can I?”

In her hands was a shirt my mother gave me from one of her fashion shows. The flashy colors weren’t my style, and back home it sat in my closet untouched. Like my sister’s dress, it had somehow gotten from New York to Colorado.

“Knock yourself out,” I told her with a nod. Then I added, “So what’s the big deal about this party?” My friends were acting like they had been invited to Cinderella’s ball, but it was just another party.

“Oh, Jackie,” Skylar said, looking up from a Cosmo. He rolled his eyes and dropped it on the ground before getting up out of my computer chair. “Sometimes I forget how little you know.”

When I hung out with the girls and Sky, I was always asking questions. They knew so much more about the Walters, and boys in general, which was ironic since I was living with what felt like a million of them.

“The big deal is that we’re friends with you,” Riley said. “Okay?” I still didn’t understand.

“You live with the Walters,” Heather said.

“Yes,” I said, starting to feel frustrated. “We’ve covered that before.” “So, that means we’ll get an invite to the VIP party,” Skylar explained. “There’s a VIP section?” I asked in surprise. I could see Cole being

exclusive and only inviting a select group of friends to a better party, but it didn’t seem like something the rest of the Walter boys would do.

“Everyone from school is invited, so a crazy amount of people show up. The backyard fills up until the place is packed. Last year, you could barely move around the deck because it was so full. There’s not really room for everyone, so the guys always invite their friends out for a more private event,” Skylar told me.

“My older sister, Dee, was friends with Will when they were in high school,” Heather added. “She’s told me some insane stories about how amazing it is.”

“What’s to stop people from crashing?”

“From what she said, I think they go somewhere else on the ranch,” Heather explained as she pulled the top I’d lent her over her head.

“It’s at the waterfall,” Kim said suddenly. Like always, she had a colorful comic grasped between her hands. “The guys use four-wheelers to take guests out.”

“That makes sense,” I said, nodding my head. There was plenty of room on the beach for a small group of people.

“How do you know that?” Riley asked as she spun around in a circle, checking herself out in the mirror.

“Alex took me out last year,” she said sheepishly.

“And you never thought to tell us?” Heather gasped, insulted. Kim just shrugged and went back to reading.

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation before Heather and Riley could attack Kim with another round of questions. “Jackie?” Alex asked, sticking his head in.

“Yeah?” I said, looking over my shoulder at the door.

“Oh, I didn’t know you guys were already over,” Alex said, and he swung the door all the way open.

“I texted you,” Kim said, her eyes still glued to the page.

“Sorry, I’ve been getting ready for the party,” Alex said. “I came up to grab Jackie. We need help putting up decorations.”

“We’ll all help!” Heather said, volunteering the entire group. “What’s the theme this year?”

“There’s a theme?” I asked.

“Yeah, we all take turns picking one. I wanted to do a super hero costume party, but the guys shot me down,” he explained. “This year we’re having a luau. Danny just got back from the store with about a million different-colored leis, tiki torches, and a blowup palm tree.”

“Bikini party!” Heather giggled.

“Yeah,” Alex said, rolling his eyes. “Guess who picked the theme this year?”

I didn’t need to guess.

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