Chapter no 18

My Life with the Walter Boys

The next morning, the house was quiet since everyone was recovering from last night’s festivities. I stayed cooped up in my room, trying to figure out what to do. I was conflicted about Danny’s proposal. More than anything I wanted to go home, but what about the people I’d come to love here in Colorado?

A knock on the door pulled me out of my thoughts.

“Come in,” I called. Alex opened the door, and I could tell from the way he squinted at the bright light of my room that he was still hungover.

“Hey,” he said, his voice strained. “Can we talk?”

“Um, yeah. Sit down.” It didn’t sound good, but I moved over on my bed to make room for him.

Nodding his head, he shuffled across the room toward my bed. As he sat down, the squeal of the springs made the tense silence in the room more apparent.

“So,” I started to say when Alex said nothing. “About last night—” “Jackie, I’m so sorry.”

“I didn’t mean for you to hear that, but—wait, what?”

“I’ve been so unfair to you,” he said. I didn’t understand what he was trying to say, so I waited for him to continue. “After the whole thing with Mary and Cole, I was so hurt. I think I knew deep down that Cole didn’t know Mary dumped me, but it just felt so good having a reason to be mad at him.”

“Why would you want to be mad at your brother?”

“I was jealous. People always compare us, but he’s so much better at everything than me.”

“That’s not true, Alex. You’re good at video games and baseball, not to mention that you’re a much better friend then he is.”

“That didn’t matter back then.” “Back when?”

“When you got here.” “What do you mean?”

“Come on, Jackie,” Alex said as if I was being stupid. “You’re beautiful. How could any guy not notice you? With Cole around, I knew I didn’t stand a chance.” He looked up at me. “But then you were in my anatomy class, so we had something in common, stuff we could talk about. I had an excuse to hang out with you, and it made me feel like I had a chance after all. What surprised me even more was that you blew him off like he was nothing. That helped me feel better and forget.”

“Forget?” I asked, even though I knew exactly what he was talking about.

“About Mary,” he said. Alex paused for a moment and shut his eyes. He was clearly in pain and was having a hard time getting his words out. “It was the weekend that my family went on the camping trip,” he said, continuing his story. “The time you, me, and Cole slept on the living-room floor during the storm? That was when I realized that I was going to have to fight him for you. I wanted to beat Cole, to feel like I accomplished something that he hadn’t. And I wanted to prove to Mary that I was done with her.”

Neither of us said anything as Alex’s words drifted through the silent air. I didn’t know how to react to his confession, but then I realized what he said should have hurt me. But it didn’t. All I felt was…relief. Alex had made living with the Walters so much easier for me—my anchor as I adjusted to the storm. He was my comfort, my first real kiss, but most importantly, he was my friend.

It took me a moment to collect my thoughts, and in that time Alex panicked. “Well, what do you feel? Massive amounts of hatred?”

“Alex, I could never hate you.” “Then what is it?”

I hesitated, taking the time to search his face. From the alarmed gleam in his eye, I could tell he knew what I was about to say. “You’re not over her, are you?” I asked him.

“Jackie, please don’t make me answer that question. I really, really care about you. I know I let my issues with Cole get between us, but—”

“Alex, wait,” I said, cutting him off. “I have a confession you need to hear as well.” It wasn’t just something that I needed to tell him, but also a truth that I had to acknowledge myself. “I know you heard Cole and me talking last night at the wedding, but there’s more to the story. When I first got here, I was so focused on proving that I was okay even though my family was gone. I had this messed-up perception in my head that I needed to be perfect, so my mother could be proud of me. Then I met Cole and I knew he was going to be trouble, unpredictable. He could’ve ruined everything I was working toward, but you were safe. I started dating you so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. I don’t know, maybe I’m still confused about my mom, but I know for sure that what I did to you was wrong.”

Alex sucked in a sharp breath. “Is this your way of saying you’re breaking up with me?”

“I—I think so.”

We were quiet for a long time.

Finally Alex said something. It wasn’t a protest or angry words, just a simple statement. “Jack and Jordan heard Danny and my mom talking last night. They said you’re leaving with him next week.”

Then I realized what he was asking. He wanted to know if I was running away from him. “I haven’t made a decision yet, but I never considered leaving because of what happened between us. It’s just that I miss home so much, but I don’t want to leave you all behind.”

“You promise it’s not because of me?” he asked, holding out his finger so I could pinkie swear.

“I promise.”

He nodded his head in understanding. “Well, then I think you should go.”


At first I thought he was being bitter, but then Alex grabbed my hand and looked at me. “You need this, Jackie,” he said. His face was soft but insistent as he tried to convince me. “Go home. Sort everything out. Then, when you’re better, you can come back to us.”

Alex couldn’t have been more right. It was time to leave Colorado and face my past.


It was supposed to be Cole and Danny’s graduation party, but Cole was missing. George was cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. Katherine made three bowls of potato salad, and Nathan cut up a huge display of fresh fruit. There were a ton of kids from our school hanging out by the pool, mostly people who knew Cole, but a few drama club members had stopped by to congratulate Danny as well.

“Jackie?” Nathan called. “Do you know where Cole is? He’s got another check here.”

“I haven’t seen him in a while,” I said, taking the envelope out of his hand. Katherine had me keeping track of the gifts because she didn’t want any of the money disappearing. “I can go look for him if you want.”

“Sure, tell him he’s missing a good time.”

Inside the house, I slipped the card on top of the fridge where none of the little kids could get at it and then went in search of Cole. It didn’t take me long to find him since he was in the first spot I looked—his garage.

Normally, the doors were shut tight, even while he worked. Today, however, they were thrown open, letting the late-afternoon light paint the small room in a golden yellow.

“You know,” I said, stepping up to the car. “There’s a party going on out back. Lots of people are here to see you.”

Cole looked up from his work in surprise, as if he hadn’t expected someone to come looking for him. “Oh,” he said when he saw me. “Hi, Jackie.”

“Lose track of time?” I asked. Glancing around, I noticed that the workbench looked tidier than normal. Most of the tools and spare car parts were packed away in the shelving unit.

“No,” Cole said, slamming the hood of the car down into place. “I just wanted to finish installing this last part.”

“So it’s ready to run?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Something about the way he responded sounded sad, almost as if he didn’t want his car to be fixed. Sighing, he pulled a rag out of his pocket and wiped off his hands.

“Hey,” I said, moving toward him. “Are you okay?” “I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem like it.”

Looking down at the car, Cole took a deep breath. “It’s just, I don’t know what to do with myself now that I’m done restoring the car. I’ve been working on it for so long.”

In the moment of silence that passed between us, I heard laughter from the party. “You mean, since you broke your leg during a football game last year?” I asked then.

Cole’s head snapped up. “How do you—?” “Nathan told me.”

He was quiet for a minute. “Did he say anything else?”

“He mentioned something about how you were different afterward.”

This time, he stayed quiet for much longer as if he needed to gather all his energy to make his confession. “When I didn’t go out for football this year,” he started to explain, “most people just thought I didn’t care anymore because I had lost my scholarship. I guess I started acting like it too— skipping school, partying, girls.”

“And the real reason?”

“Honestly, I’m terrified that it won’t be the same. I feel—I don’t know.

Broken, I guess.”

“So this replaced football?” I asked, gesturing down at the car. Cole nodded. “I can’t fix myself, but I can fix this.”

I nodded my head slowly. I couldn’t agree with Cole because I didn’t think he was broken, but I understood how he felt. “You know what, Cole? I have a feeling you’ll be okay.”

Instead of answering, he changed the subject. “I’m moving into Will’s old apartment. He’s living with Haley now.”

“How come?”

“I’ll be closer to work. I have to save up money this summer if I’m going to pay for college.” Cole might have lost his football scholarship, but he still planned on going to the same college: the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“Well, once you’re all settled in, you should give me a tour,” I said with a smile.

“If that’s what you want.”

“Of course! Now how about you stop moping around and come join the party. I want to grab a hamburger before they’re gone.”

“You go,” he said. He was staring at me, the look on his face unsolvable. “I’ll catch up in the little bit. There’s one last thing I have to do.”


The next few days went by fast. Danny and I were leaving to go to the airport in the afternoon, and I spent most of my morning making sure all of my belongings were packed. As I looked around my room one last time, I noticed the pair of Katherine’s old jeans that Cole gave me hanging over the back of my chair. They weren’t on my list of things to bring, but I scooped them up and shoved them in my suitcase anyway. I wanted to bring a bit of Colorado back to New York with me.

Katherine was teary eyed when I brought my suitcases downstairs, and I knew it was hard for her as she watched Danny and George load the back of the truck. She was losing three of us in the span of one week. During the graduation party, Cole had packed up his car and moved out of the house, leaving only a note on the kitchen counter to explain where he went. When I heard he was gone, I felt like it was my fault. He’d mentioned leaving back in the garage and I should have known he was trying to tell me goodbye, but I didn’t realize he was planning to go so soon. I called him twice, but both times it went straight to voice mail.

“Before you all go, I want to show you something,” said Katherine. She had been acting mysterious for the last two days.

“You finished the mur—” Isaac started.

“Don’t ruin it!” Nathan butted in before Isaac could wreck the surprise. “Come this way, Jackie. You have to see.”

Katherine led us around the side of the house to the barn, with everyone following behind us.

“You have to close your eyes,” she told me and covered my face with her hands.

“All right,” I giggled, not quite sure what was going on. Someone pulled back the squeaky barn door and guided me inside.

Parker gasped, someone started to clap, and I heard Jack and Jordan arguing about who looked better. I twitched to see what everyone was so excited about.

“Okay,” Katherine said, taking her hands away. “Open your eyes.”

My eyelids quickly snapped up, and I blinked a few times to see if what I was looking at was actually real. “Oh my God, Katherine!” I gushed, walking forward in astonishment. “This is—I don’t even have a word to describe it.”

“Don’t touch,” she warned Zack and Benny. “It’s still wet, and thank you, Jackie. I’ve been working hard on it ever since you decided to leave with Danny.”

One wall of the barn was covered in a spectacular mural. In the middle were Katherine and George, surrounded by their children. The little twins were painted wrestling on the ground, Nathan with a guitar in his hand, and Lee with his skateboard. But then I noticed the girl with two arms wrapped around her shoulder. I was in the painting, and Cole and Alex were smiling on either side of me. On the top of the entire mural in Katherine’s cursive font were the words: “My Family.”

It was then that the meaning behind it really sunk in.

“Katherine, this—this is the best surprise anyone has given me,” I said, barely able to get my words out. My hands were trembling as I pulled her into a hug. There was nothing I could say to truly show her what this— having a family again—meant to me.

“I’m glad you like it, honey,” she whispered softly. It was almost as if she understood what was going through my head.

“We need to get going,” Danny said, glancing down at his watch. All morning he’d been an anxious mess, and I knew he was afraid of missing the flight.

Everyone paraded to the driveway so we could say our farewells.

“I’m going to miss my running buddy,” Nathan told me, wrapping his arms around me for a hug.

“Not as much as I’m going to miss you,” I replied, burying my face in his shoulder. “But I’ll be back in September. There’s no way I could leave you forever.” I pulled away so I could look at him. More like look up at him. Nathan was so much taller than me now that he could use the top of my head as an armrest. He only had a few more inches to go before he caught up to Danny.

“All right, you two,” George said, opening the truck door. “We should hit the road.”

After receiving a hug from everyone, including a second one from Katherine, Danny and I climbed into the truck.

“I’ll be home for dinner,” George called.

After clicking in my seat belt, I focused my attention on all the wonderful people in front of me as the car roared to life. Every one of them had been important in helping me during a difficult time of my life, and I never wanted to forget that. Looking past their sad but smiling faces, I found the window of my room on the side of the Walters’ house. If I squinted, I could make out the bright colors that were on the walls, but I had to imagine the image of my bed and desk inside.

As if the weather sensed everyone’s depressing mood, the sky had filled with clouds. Danny and I waved out the truck window, and I felt the mist of a coming rain brush against my skin. By the time we had backed all the way out of the driveway, it was raining.

Reaching back, Danny found my hand and rubbed it softly in a comforting way. I rested my head against the window and stared out into the gloomy weather. Leaving Colorado wasn’t just hard for me; I knew Danny was sad as well. Although he was excited about the opportunities that the theater program was going to offer him, he was leaving his family behind.

“What the heck?” George exclaimed from the front seat. My eyes snapped open. Craning my neck to peer out the window, I spotted a car speeding toward us dangerously fast. A horn honked as the car pulled up beside us. It was the newly restored Buick Grand National.

“It’s Cole!” Danny said, his eyebrows rising in surprise.

“You’re right,” George said, sounding just as confused. “What is he doing?”

My phone rang, and I had to tear my eyes away from the road to find it in my purse. “Hello?” I answered, my voice trembling.

“Jackie, it’s me. Please have my dad pull over.”

“Mr. Walter?” I asked, holding the phone away from my mouth. “Can you pull over quick? I promise this will only take a second.”

“All right,” he agreed, “but it has to be fast. Katherine would kill me if you two miss your flight.”

“I know. Thank you so much,” I said as he slowed the car and parked in the gravel on the side of the road.

Cole pulled up behind us, and I ripped my door open and jumped out into the rain.

“I thought you weren’t going to say good-bye,” I said, launching myself into his arms.

“I know. I’m sorry,” he responded and held me tight. “I was afraid. I don’t want to say good-bye to you.”

“It’s not forever.”

“It feels like it,” he said. Biting my tongue, I tried to hold back the rush of feelings inside me. “I wish things would have worked out between us.” His words were regretful. “It’s like the timing was never right.”

“Who knows?” I said. Lifting my hands up, I cupped his face with my cold fingers. “Maybe it will be.”

Yes, I was leaving Colorado. Coming here had helped me forget some of the pain of losing my family, but I needed to stop running from it. Going back to New York was going to be an agonizing process of putting myself back together, but facing it would make me a stronger person. Perhaps then, when I came back, the timing would be perfect.

Cole turned his head to look at the dark sky above us, and I couldn’t tell if it was a raindrop or tear that streaked down his face. “Okay.”

The truck horn beeped, signaling our time was up.

“Good-bye, Cole,” I whispered, nuzzling my face between his shoulder and neck.

“Wait!” he cried out as I started to pull away. “Just one kiss, Jackie. One real kiss, so you can have something to think about when you get home.”

I gazed up into Cole’s eyes before I let mine flutter closed. His warm lips pressed against mine, as the cold, numbing rain poured down on us. My hand gripped his shoulders tightly as he tangled his fingers in my soaking hair. Our heavy, wet clothes hung to our bodies, making our embrace feel even tighter.

And one kiss was all it was. As soon as his lips touched mine, it felt like they were gone, even though the kiss had probably lasted a good five seconds.

“Thank you,” Cole whispered, his forehead pressed against mine.

My heart was begging me to find his lips again and never let go, but the horn beeped again, and my head made me pull away.

“Good-bye, Jackie,” Cole called as I turned in the direction of the truck. “See you in three months,” I responded, looking back over my shoulder.

No good-byes. This wasn’t good-bye. He nodded his head and flashed me a small smile.

With that, I focused my eyes on the truck and didn’t look back. It was time to go home.

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