Chapter no 15

My Life with the Walter Boys

The clearing was lit up with torches and the trees lined with Christmas lights. The water sparkled as the flames danced across the surface, and the pumping music gave the whole scene a hypnotic feel. As people jumped into the pond, water droplets sprayed across the surface, making it look like they were swimming in diamonds.

“It’s beautiful,” I whispered.

“Thanks,” Danny said, coming up next to me. “Worked on it all afternoon. Had to bribe Jack and Jordan into climbing the trees to wrap the lights.”

“It was worth it.”

“Good. It cost me two weeks’ worth of allowance.”

Riley, Heather, and Skylar, who had never been to the waterfall before, quickly stripped down to their swimsuits. Knowing how cold the water was, I decided to skip the swimming and instead found Alex and Kim talking with a group of friends at the picnic table.

“Greetings, magnificent lady,” said one of the boys as I approached. His hair was long and hadn’t been washed in quite some time. Greasy bangs gleamed in the flicker of the tiki torches.

I looked to Alex for direction.

“Malcolm,” Alex said, as he pulled me down onto his lap, “this is my girlfriend, Jackie.” He made sure to stress the “girlfriend” part. “Jackie, this is Malcolm and the rest of my guild.”

Besides Malcolm, the GoG guild included two other boys—one with scrawny arms and a long, hooked nose, and another with hair dyed a shocking shade of blue.

“It is an honor to make the acquaintance of our fearless leader’s fair maiden,” Malcolm said, taking my hand and kissing it.

“Dude, are you trying to embarrass me?” Alex asked his friend, and Kim burst out laughing.

“Could be worse,” blue-haired boy said. “At least he didn’t greet her in Sindarin.”

“Um—it’s nice to meet you as well,” I told Malcolm, pulling my hand away from him. I had no clue what language Sindarin was, but as I wiped his kiss off on the back of my pants, I knew I already wanted to get away from this conversation. Maybe I should have gone swimming…

“Ah, the lady speaks, and in such a pleasing tone.”

“Seriously, man,” Alex said, slugging his friend on the shoulder. “If you don’t cut it out, I’m never going out in public with you again.”

“Want me to go grab some beer?” I asked Alex as I untangled our legs from beneath the picnic table and stepped over the bench. I wasn’t going to drink, not after last time, but at this point I was looking for any excuse to get away.

“That’d be amazing.”

I was gone before Malcolm could mutter another uncomfortable word. The keg was situated near the edge of the clearing, right at the line of trees. When I finally reached the front of the line, I found Nick running the tap.

“Hi,” I said, trying to be as brisk as possible. There was something about him that made me feel uneasy. Maybe it was the fact that he was Cole’s best friend, or maybe it was just because most of the time, he was so unfriendly. “I need two.”

“One at time,” he said, thrusting a single beer in my direction. “House rules.”

“Considering I live here and you don’t,” I said, putting my free hand on my hip, “bending the rules shouldn’t be a problem. And the second cup is

for Alex who, if you didn’t know, also lives here.” The people behind me in line snickered.

“All right, whatever,” he said. The air was tense for a moment as I waited for him to fill the second cup, and as soon as he handed it to me, I moved away from the keg without a thank-you.

“Hey, psst!” Someone yanked me into the trees, sloshing beer all over my arm.

“Cole?” I said when I straightened up and spotted him. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Can we talk?” he asked, gesturing behind him with a nod. “I’m getting beers for Alex and myself,” I told him.

“This is important.”

“That’s nice, but I’m in the middle of an interesting conversation,” I lied, glancing back at the table where Alex and his friends were sitting.

“With whom? The Dungeons and Dragons freaks?” “Do you always have to be so mean?”

“Do you always have to be so stubborn?” “I am not.”

“I just need ten minutes. Is that really so much of your time?”

I thought about Malcolm, who would be waiting at the table when I returned. “Five,” I said, grumbling.

“That works,” Cole said, grabbing the beers out of my hands and tossing them to the ground. “Let’s go.”

“Hey!” I complained, glancing down at the now-empty cups. “I stood in line for those.”

But Cole wasn’t listening. He was tugging me through the undergrowth, pushing tree branches out of the way as he went.

“What’s so important that we need to trudge through half a jungle just to talk about it?” I demanded as we quickly moved deeper into the forest.

Ignoring me, he continued to plow through the vegetation until we broke through into a small clearing.

“Wow.” It was all I could mutter.

The moonlight poured over the tops of the trees and onto the small expanse of grass, bathing the area in beautiful white light. However, it wasn’t the moonlight that made me catch my breath. There were hundreds of little white flowers growing everywhere. I could feel Cole watching me as I took in the sight around me.

Dicentra spectabilis,” he said. “What?”

“The flowers.” He gestured with his head. “The common name is ‘bleeding hearts.’”

“They’re beautiful,” I said as I cradled one in my palm. They really did look like hearts.

“Most are normally pink,” he told me, grabbing my hand and directing me to a boulder in the middle of the clearing. “But some types are white.”

“Do they always bloom at night?” I asked, tucking my legs in as I sat down.

Cole shook his head. “They like shade, so they normally open near the end of the day. These guys just haven’t closed up yet.”

“Since when did you become a flower expert?” I asked.

“I know lots of random facts about plants. My mom loves gardening. Just wait until she starts working on her flower beds this summer.” He was smiling at me, trying to scoot closer.

“So what did you need to talk to me about?” I asked then, realizing that the five minutes I’d given him were already up. He was quiet at this, looking away as I tried to catch his eye. “Cole, why did you bring me here?” I demanded. I didn’t want to play any of his games.

“Jackie…” He scraped his hair back, the look in his eyes regretful, and I knew he was trying to apologize for the night we went TPing.

“No,” I said and took a step back from him. “No, no. You can’t do this, Cole. You don’t get to do this.”

“Will you just listen to me?”

“Why?” I asked. “Everything you told me at Will’s was a lie.” “That’s not true!”

“Bullshit. You gave me this crap speech about being a jerk because you were jealous of Alex, but as soon as we get home, what do you do?”

“Jackie, please—”

“No, Cole,” I snapped. “I’m so done with your shit. You don’t get a second chance.”

“What about Alex? You’ve given him two!”

“You’re right, Cole. I did. But the difference between you two is that what you did—that was out of spite. And want to know what I think? I think that you enjoy being an asshole.”

“God, Jackie!” he exploded. “What did you expect after I opened up to you? I tell you my feelings, and then you turn around and date my brother.”

“What feelings, Cole? You never said anything about your feelings!” “That I like you, Jackie! I didn’t know I had to spell it out, considering

everything I’ve done for you.”

“Oh, so now you care about me? If that’s true, why would you try to get me in trouble like that?”

“Because you said yes to Alex!” he screamed. And then, as if he was out of steam, he dropped his head. “Why did you say yes?”

He buried his head in his hands, and we were both quiet for a long time. “Cole,” I finally said as a chilly breeze drifted through the clearing,

covering my arms in goose bumps. He lifted his head slowly but finally met my eyes. “I don’t understand you. One minute you’re making out with the entire cheerleading squad, and the next you’re mad at me for dating Alex? That’s not fair.”

“This was not how I imagined our conversation going,” he said, ripping a clump of grass from the ground. He started to shred the long green slices into tiny slivers.

“Lots of things don’t turn out how we plan,” I responded. After everything I’d been through, I’d learned to understand that.

“But I didn’t even plan for this to happen.” He moved his hand back and forth in the foot of space between us, indicating something more. I knew he meant me and him, and this thing going on between us, whatever that was.

“Look, Cole,” I said. “Neither did I, but I’m still dealing with it.”

And that’s when it hit me—about Romeo and Juliet, I mean. I never figured Cole or Alex into my life, just like Shakespeare’s most famous couple never anticipated falling in love. The Walter boys were unexpected, but I was still managing just like Romeo and Juliet did. Sure their way was unconventional, but what if that was the best they could do given the circumstance? Maybe I hadn’t given them enough credit.

I had been trying to fit my world into a small, safe box for so long. But life didn’t work like that. It could move in and out of the lines. You couldn’t control everything, because it wasn’t all meant to be perfect. Sometimes things needed to be messy.

I got up from the rock. So I couldn’t control the fact that Cole and Alex were in my life, making it one confusing mess. But I could uncomplicate it once and for all. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, I was going to take the easy way out of love. I had already made my decision the night I said yes to Alex. Now I had to follow through.

“I need to go back to the party before anyone starts worrying about me,” I said then. “You should go too.”

Cole didn’t move as I made my way out of the clearing. He just let me go.


The backyard was a sea of red cups, and I had to pick them all up.

Will woke everyone bright and early since we needed to erase the evidence of the party before Katherine and George got home. Impressed with how I took charge during his mom’s meltdown, Will employed my skills to organize the cleanup. I quickly split up the chores that needed to be tackled and dished them out to all the boys. I thought I had given myself the worst job, but I could hear Isaac complaining from the deck.

“Too early for this shit,” he said as he yanked his shirt over his head. He was responsible for cleaning the pool. Not only was it murky, but two patio chairs were submerged in the deep end and a swimsuit top was tied to the

basketball hoop that hung over the water. With one last grumble, he dove in and the cups floating on the surface bobbed like buoys.

Besides Isaac, Danny was putting the house in order. Even though partygoers were restricted to the backyard, somehow the mess had managed to leak inside. Will and Haley were making sure the front yard was spotless, and for obvious reasons, I sent Cole to clean up by the waterfall.

After our conversation the night before, I’d returned to the party and spent the night talking with Alex and his friends. Malcolm was obnoxious the entire time—hitting on me and saying awkward things—until it got so bad that Alex pushed him into the freezing water. I didn’t notice when Cole rejoined his friends, but eventually I spotted him, a beer in one hand and his other arm wrapped around Olivia. He kept his distance, but I caught him watching me from across the beach more than once.

This morning was tense. There wasn’t much time for breakfast, so we started a toast assembly line. Danny put the bread in the toaster. When it was done cooking, he handed to Isaac who put it on a paper plate and passed it to Cole. He would spread jam on one piece before sliding the plate to me, so I could butter the second piece. Finally, Alex would cut both pieces in half and move the plate to the kitchen table. I don’t know how I ended up squished between Cole and Alex, but I could feel how uncomfortable Cole was.

I gave him the waterfall job so I wouldn’t have to see him, but as Alex opened his mouth again, I’d wished for a second that I sent him along as well.

“I’m really sorry about last night,” he told me for the millionth time. He was standing a few feet away from me with a garbage bag clutched in his hand.

“Alex,” I said, plucking a cup off the sparkling grass, which was wet with morning dew. I dropped it into my own bag and caught a whiff of stale beer. “How many times do I need to tell you? Stop apologizing.”

“I just feel bad that you had to put up with Malcolm all night.”

I knew he was really worried that I was judging him based on his friend, but I honestly didn’t care that Malcolm was weird. As long as I didn’t have to hang out with him again, I’d be fine. I was anxious about not getting everything cleaned up in time, and if Alex had spent as much time cleaning as he did being nervous, we might be done already.

“He wasn’t that bad,” I lied. “Let’s just focus on getting this done.”

“Are you sure?” Alex asked, and I gave him a death glare. “Okay, I get it! More cups, less talking.”

It was a miracle, but we managed take care of the party mess before Katherine and George returned. By the time they pulled into the driveway, Nathan and I were already studying for our exams. We didn’t have any classes together, but Nathan asked if he could work in my room with me. He was having a hard time focusing in his own since Alex was trying to get in a quick round of GoG before his parents got home.

An almost-summer breeze wandered in through my open window, brushing against the back of my neck and cooling my sticky skin. Frustrated with all the different dates I needed to know for my history exam, I closed my eyes and rested my head against the wall. I tried to relax, but it was impossible with Nathan’s music. He had headphones in, but I could still hear the heavy beat of some rock song. It didn’t really seem like his thing, but his head was bopping away as he flipped through a set of flash cards.

“Hey, Nathan?” I called, trying to get his attention. There was no answer. “Nathan!” I shouted, and he jumped, the cards in his hand slipping to the floor. Jostling his MP3 player, he turned off the music and looked at me.

“What’s wrong?”

I laughed. “Nothing, I just wanted to talk. How do you concentrate with all that noise anyway?”

“Oh,” he said, kneeling to collect his flash cards. “It’s nothing really.

I’ve grown up with so much noise in this house.”

“So you can only work with loud, brain-splitting music?” I asked, unconvinced.

Nathan shrugged. “If it gets too quiet around here, something just feels off.”

“Gotcha. So where were you last night?” I asked. “I didn’t see you at the party.”

“I wasn’t allowed to go. Will needed someone to keep all the little ones occupied while he was supervising, and he decided I was too young to attend. Lee got to go last year when he was a freshman, but Cole was in charge then.”

“Dang,” I said, knowing how excited the boys were about the party. “That stinks.”

He considered this momentarily. “Not really,” he told me. “The party scene really isn’t my thing.”

“Yeah, same here.” As the words left my mouth, I realized how hypocritical they sounded. Since moving to Colorado, I’d been to more parties in the past month and a half than in my entire life.

Nathan must not have been paying attention, because he kept talking. “The only bad part was trying to fall asleep with all the racket outside, and of course the food fight.”

“Food fight?” I questioned.

“Zack and Benny got in a fight over who was better: the Green Goblin or the octopus dude. I forget his name.”

“Doctor Octopus,” I added.

“Yeah, him. Well, anyway, they started throwing popcorn at each other. When they ran out, they used their grape soda. It took forever to pick up all the little pieces and I had to get a mop.”

Before I could respond, I heard yelling from the backyard. “Giddyap, horsey!”

Getting up, I went over to the window just in time to see Isaac rocket off the deck with Parker clamped onto his back. Around her neck was a cowboy hat hanging by a string. On her feet were a pair of worn-out cowboy boots, and clutched in one hand was an orange squirt gun.

The door slammed shut again, and a second later Benny and Zack leaped off the steps, copying their older cousin. They were both wearing swim trunks and had war paint slathered across their chests. The twins began to launch water balloons at the cowgirl and her horse.

“Turn around, horsey!” Parker said, slapping Isaac on the butt to get him moving. “We need to get those Indians!”

I giggled and pushed the window all the way up so I could sit on the sill and watch. As I made myself comfortable, Zack ducked out of the way of the stream of water from Parker’s gun. His flimsy headband made of construction paper and neon craft feathers flew off his head.

“Time-out!” Benny yelled so his partner could collect his headgear.

Parker didn’t listen.

“Hey, no fair!” Zack shouted at his sister who blasted him in the face anyway. “He told you time-out!”

“I don’t listen to savages!” Parker announced. A moment later a water balloon exploded on her arm.

“Kids!” George demanded, emerging onto the deck. He wasn’t facing me, but from the tone of his voice, I could tell he was frowning. “When I told you to stop using the dog as a horse, I didn’t mean for you to bother Isaac. He’s supposed to be helping me fix the kitchen sink!”

Isaac’s shoulders slumped, his fun ruined, and he let Parker slip off his back.

“Aw, man!” Parker complained, crossing her arms. “Now the teams are unfair.”

“Hey, Jackie!” Zack shouted when he spotted me in the window. “Do you want to play Wild West?”

“Of course she does,” Parker said, and before I could respond, she blasted me with a spray of cold water from her squirt gun.

“Hey!” I shrieked. She giggled and pumped up her gun for another attack. “Don’t you dare!”

She pulled the trigger again, spraying my shirt. Trying to get out of the way, I tumbled to the floor with a loud thump.

“You guys,” Nathan shouted from behind me. “We’re trying to study.” As I picked myself up off the floor, the bedroom door banged open. “What’s wrong? I heard a crash!” Katherine was panting in the doorway,

with a worried look on her normally gentle features. Her eyes searched for Nathan, and when she saw him sitting perfectly fine at my desk, she let out a breath of relief. “Thank God,” I heard her whisper.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Nathan said angrily.

“I’m sorry. I just thought something bad had—”

“That was my fault, Katherine,” I said, cutting in. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just being clumsy.”

She watched us for a moment. “Are you sure?” she asked, still sounding unsure.

“Everything is fine,” Nathan said slowly. I could tell he was trying not to yell.

Just then a water balloon came sailing through the window. It exploded at my feet and sprayed everywhere. A stream of laughter followed the attack.

“Kids!” Katherine shouted. The giggling cut off. “What did I tell you about water balloons in the house? Get inside right now!”

Then she stormed out of the room, leaving us slightly stunned and silent. I couldn’t tell if her anger was caused by the little kids or by stress from what she thought was Nathan having another seizure. I stayed still until Nathan finally let out the air he was holding in.

“Do you want me to leave?” I asked, even though we were in my room.

He looked like he needed to be alone.

“No!” he answered and angrily shuffled through his flash cards. Then he sighed and added, “Sorry, Jackie. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I’d just like to go back to studying.”

“It’s okay,” I told him and opened my book again. But as the minutes passed, I couldn’t concentrate on the words in front of me. “Do you want to talk about it?” I finally asked.

“I’m fine,” he told me. “It’s just really frustrating when I can’t have any privacy. My mom is constantly checking on me. I’m surprised she hasn’t started sleeping on my floor at night.”

“She’s just worried about you,” I said, not sure how to respond. I hadn’t the slightest idea of what he was going through. It must be hard to always have someone with you, never alone.

“I know.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “But I just want my old life back.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled, looking down. Then we were both still, lost in our own problems.

The door banged open again. “Hey, Jackie?” Alex asked, beaming like an excited child.

“What’s up?”

“Not much. I was just wondering if you wanted to come to my baseball game later today. It’s the last one of the year.” The corners of his mouth rose in a hopeful smile. How could I say no to that cute grin?

“I’d love to, Alex,” I told him, patting the spot next to me on the bed. “But you have to do me a favor first.”

“Sure,” Alex said excitedly. “You need to study for anatomy.”


As I washed my hands, I whistled the tune of a song Nathan had been listening to. Somehow I’d managed to convince Alex to go over our anatomy definitions together, and along with Nathan, we’d been holed up in my room for the past two hours. When Alex’s attention span finally waned, I walked him back to his room and took a quick bathroom break.

Turning off the faucet, I heard a giggle.

“Who’s in here?” I demanded and spun around. Someone tried to suppress another laugh, and I flung the shower curtain back. “Benny!” I cried when I saw him curled up in the tub. “What are you doing?”

“Playing hide-and-seek. Mom took away the water balloons,” he explained, a frown of disappointment on his face. But then he smiled and added, “Do you always wear polka-dot underwear?”

I counted to three in my head to contain my anger. “Benny,” I said, after taking a few calming breaths, “why didn’t you say something when I came in?”

“That’s not how you play hide-and-seek,” he whispered and put a finger to his lips. “You have to be quiet, duh.”

“But I needed to use the bathroom,” I said.

The door slammed open. People really needed to learn how to knock in this household. “I found you!” shouted Zack.

“Did I win?” his twin asked eagerly and climbed out of the tub.

“No!” Parker complained, pushing into the bathroom as well. “Zack cheated. He was peeking when I hid!”

“Did not!”

“Yes, huh!”

“You’re just a shitty hider!” Zack said, shoving his sister. “Am not!” Parker shouted back.

“I won! I won!” Benny sang as he danced across the tile in celebration. “Guys!” I said, trying to break up a fight. “How about we start over? I’ll

play too. This time, no peeking.”

I gave Zack a no-funny-business look, and he flashed me a grin before running back to his room to count. “One. Two. Three,” he started slowly. Then, “Four-five-seven-ten!”

Parker dashed out of the bathroom as Zack rushed to sixty, and as I searched for a place to hide, I realized I had acquired a tiny shadow.

“Benny, you can’t keep following me around,” I told him. “I’m trying to find a spot.”

“Can I hide with you?” he asked. His bottom lip was out stuck out in a pout as he looked up at me with big eyes.

“Oh fine,” I said, unable to say no to his adorable face. Opening the linen closet, I yanked out a few towels, clearing off a shelf. “Come here,

you,” I said, lifting Benny up and helping him climb onto the shelf. He pulled his knees up to his chest, and I covered him with the towels. Then I stepped inside and closed the door, throwing us into darkness.

“He’s never going to find me,” Benny giggled.

“Hey,” I whispered. “I thought the rule was you had to be quiet.”

We hid in the darkness for only a minute, and I was already starting to get antsy. Even though I had just gone, my bladder was turning tight. It was the one thing I hated about playing hide-and- seek—you always ended up having to pee. Just when I couldn’t take it any longer, someone pulled open the door.

Cole jumped back in surprise when he saw me. “Jesus,” he shouted, almost dropping the towel that was wrapped around his waist. He must have been heading for the shower. “Why are you creeping in the closet?”

“Peaches, peaches, apple pie. If you’re not ready, holler I!” Zack shouted from his room, and I felt Benny tug on my shirt in panic. Crap, we were going to be found first.

“Get in here,” I said, grabbing Cole’s wrist and yanking him in.

But there wasn’t much room. With the door shut, I could feel the shelves digging into my back. And then there was the part where Cole’s entire body was pressed up against mine.

“Change your mind about dating Alex?” Cole asked. I couldn’t see him in the dark, but we were so close that I could feel his breath on my face.


“Well, you just pulled me into a closet nearly naked. I’m assuming you’re going to confess your undying love for me and tell me how you made a mistake that night at the party. Then we could have hot, passionate se—”

“Oh my God, no,” I hissed at him, as my face went warm. “I haven’t changed my mind about anything. We’re playing hide-and- seek and you were about to ruin my spot.”

“Okay, fine. We can skip over the undying love and jump right to the fun part.”

“Cole,” I said, stomping on his foot. “Shut up!” “God damn, woman! That hurt!”

“Can you guys just kiss or something?” Benny complained. “At least then you’d be quiet. I wanna win.”

“Holy shit, Benny?” Cole exclaimed, his chest heaving against mine in surprise. “Anyone else hiding in here too?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Carmen Sandiego and Where’s Waldo. Now please, be quiet!”

Cole listened to me then, and even though he kept his mouth shut, I was afraid that my heart would give us away. It was pounding so loudly that the entire house must have heard it.

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