Chapter no 5

My Life with the Walter Boys

After school, I locked myself in my room and set to work unpacking, determined to keep my promise to Sammy. I would settle in and make the most of my situation. On my bed was a checklist so that as I unpacked, I could make sure all my belongings were here and organized.

Even though it was only spring, the house was hot. The Walters didn’t seem to understand the benefits of air-conditioning, so I had my window shoved up all the way to let what little breeze there was inside. I’d been at it for almost an hour, moving my clothes from boxes to the dresser that Katherine had managed to squeeze into the room, when I heard voices drifting up from the backyard. There was a splash of water, then another. Wiping the sweat from the back of my neck, I peered out the window and spotted two people in the pool.

“You look so sexy when you’re dripping wet. I just want to run my hands all over you.”

It was Erin speaking. She was treading water, her long auburn locks swirling out behind her like mermaid hair. Her fingers worked back and forth as she rubbed someone’s shoulders. He wasn’t facing me, but I recognized his red swim trunks immediately.

“Sexy, huh?” Cole drawled. “Tell me more.”

“Really, guys?” another voice said, and Alex stepped into view on the deck, also wearing swim trunks. He kicked off his flip-flops. “I don’t want to barf in the pool.”

“The chlorine will kill it. Stop being so prissy,” Cole said, but he untangled himself from Erin.

Giving his brother the finger, Alex stepped up to the side of the pool and curled his toes over the edge.

“Alexander James Walter!” Katherine called from somewhere out of sight. “Shouldn’t you be rewriting that history paper?” It wasn’t a question. Alex looked up at the sky as if to ask “Why me?” before slowly turning away from the pool.

“On it, Mom. No need to cool off. It’s only like a hundred degrees inside,” he said sarcastically.

“Good, and when you go upstairs, ask Jackie what type of dressing she likes on her salad. We’re eating dinner in half an hour.”

Slipping his sandals back on his feet, Alex headed toward the house, and a few seconds later I heard the screen slide shut.

“Alone at last,” Cole said, his voice low. He swam over to Erin and folded her in his arms.

“Jackie?” she said, pushing away from him. “That girl who sat with us at lunch yesterday? What’s she doing here?”

I froze at the sound of my name.

“Yeah, her,” Cole answered. “She’s living with us.”

“Un-flipping-believable,” Erin said loudly, her face twisting in anger. “That’s why you’ve been spending time with her. You like her, don’t you?”

Cole didn’t answer. The following silence was static and uncomfortable, unbearable even, and I stared at Cole, willing him to answer.

“I barely know her,” he said eventually.

“You obviously know her well enough to invite her to sit with us at lunch.”

“You know me,” he said back. “It’s no big deal.”

“Not a big deal? Are you serious? She’s living under the same roof as you,” Erin hissed.

“Yeah, I’m completely serious. Why are you overreacting? It’s not like you’re my girlfriend.”

It was the wrong thing to say. With a splash, Erin swung around and swam to the edge of the pool. When she started climbing out, Cole groaned and chased after her.

“Babe, are you really going to act like this right now?” he asked, trying to pull her back into the pool.

Erin shook his hand off. “Until you starting acting like my boyfriend, don’t call me that. I’m leaving.” She plucked a purse off one of the pool chairs and stomped down the deck steps into the backyard before disappearing around the side of the house.

There was silence again, and in that moment, I realized that Nathan might be wrong about some of the girls at Valley View High. Erin didn’t seem very accepting of Cole’s player behavior. Maybe I stood a chance after all.

Cole slapped the surface of the water before raking his fingers through his hair. Even from a distance I could see his lips curl in anger, and as if sensing me, he looked up at my window. I barely ducked in time, and with my heart racing against my chest, I retreated toward my bed and out of view.


Peering down into the box, I discovered that I was finally done unpacking. There was only one item left inside to give a new home to, and I knew exactly where to put it. The picture frame was a shimmery gold, and the metal edges swirled like lace around the photo of my mother and me. I positioned the picture of us on top of my dresser next to all the other frames I’d set up—and took a step back.

Ever since I was young, people had said how similar we looked, even if I couldn’t see it. It’s the hair, I would tell them. We have the same hair. My mother laughed at the comparison, not because she didn’t think we looked similar, but because to her, we were nothing alike.

And we weren’t.

Growing up, it didn’t take long for me to realize how incredibly different my life was compared to the rest of the world. Most people had one house, not four vacation homes in different locations around the world, two beach properties—one on the East Coast and the other on the West—and one luxury penthouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

In the first grade, I visited a classmate’s house to work on a science project and was shocked to find out that she did chores. I always had maids to clean up after me, to fold my clothes and put away my dishes. Chauffeurs didn’t drive every car on the road—most people drove their own. And owning a private jet? That wasn’t normal either. My dad was the definition of successful, and it was a lot, maybe even too much, to live up to.

I tried anyway. I had to for my mom. In school, not only did I have the highest GPA in my year, but I also became the student council president and head of the yearbook committee as a freshman. During the summers, I interned at my dad’s company, while at the same time helping my mother plan her autumn charity ball.

My life was busy, but never in a hectic, out-of-control way. I organized my time, every minute of every day, within the confines of a little black day planner. What drove my mother crazy were the lists. Every task I ever needed to complete—whether redecorating my room or doing my nightly homework—was tackled using an orderly to-do list. The most important business went on the top, and by the time I reached the bottom, I could be safe in knowing that I hadn’t forgotten anything. Because after all, those were the worst surprises, weren’t they? The stuff you didn’t plan for—or didn’t plan enough for—that made everything less…perfect.

So where I was cautious, aiming for perfection, some impossible abstraction, my mother was the opposite: wild, spontaneous, carefree. There was a reason why Designs by Jole & Howard was one of Manhattan’s most popular fashion houses—Angeline Howard was willing to take chances, to leap without looking. Jackie, she would say, you can’t control everything. Roadblocks, little unexpected bumps, they’re all part of living.

I disagreed. Everything could be accounted for. All it took was some preparation. Why would anyone choose chaos when they could live in control?

“Hey, Jackie?” someone asked, interrupting my thoughts. The door opened a sliver, just enough for me to make out Alex in the hallway.

“Yes?” I asked, pulling it open all the way.

“Um, my mom wants to know what type of dressing you like on your salad.”

“I’m fine with whatever.”

“Okay, thanks. Dinner should be ready in ten,” he said, turning away. “Wait. Before you go!” I spun around and grabbed the Shakespeare play

off my bed. “Here,” I said, handing it to him. “Take it.” “What’s this?” he asked, looking down at the cover.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Remember? I read yours and you read mine?”

“Right,” he said, grinning up at me. “Book swap.”


“So, boys,” said Katherine, unfolding her hands after George led grace. We were all seated for dinner, with the exception of Will who had returned to his apartment the day before. “Who wants to fess up for wrecking the shower curtain?”

I almost dropped my plate, which I was holding up so Nathan could scoop a serving of mashed potatoes onto it. Somehow, over the course of the day’s events, I’d forgotten about this morning. Most of the boys snickered, and I knew that they knew. Jack and Jordan must have shown them the footage of me rushing out of the bathroom. I could picture them in my head, all crowded around the small device, laughing as I shrieked onscreen.

“Don’t anyone try to blame this crime on Zack and Benny like the noodles-in-the-washing-machine incident. Since they were at the dentist with me, they have an exceptional alibi.”

“I know who did it,” Lee said, words spurting past his lips, almost as if he had been waiting for her to ask.

When he didn’t respond immediately, Katherine pursed her lips. “Well?” Lee picked up his cup and took a long, antagonizing sip of water before setting it back down. “I’m not one for tattling,” he said with a shrug. “Why don’t you ask Jackie?” He turned to me, and cruel satisfaction flickered in

his eyes.

“Jackie?” Katherine said, laughing. She shook her head in dismissal. “Now that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in ages.”

I didn’t know what to say to this since the notion of me ripping down someone’s shower curtain was, in fact, ridiculously unbelievable, but unfortunately it was also the truth. I couldn’t lie.

“I’m so sorry, Katherine,” I said, hanging my head.

At the sound of my voice, her head snapped up to look at me. “Jackie?” She paused, clearly confused. Finally, “Why on earth would you do that?”

Her question roused another round of laughter.

“I didn’t mean to ruin anything,” I tried to explain, “but after my shower, I really needed to, um, cover up.”

George narrowed his eyes in suspicion, as if he knew something fishy was going on. “Didn’t you remember a towel?”

This was the point of no return. I could either lie, letting Isaac get away with it, or explain the entire story so my actions would be justified. But if I told Katherine and George what really happened, Isaac would most likely be pissed, and that could come back to haunt me. On the other hand, if I rolled over and let it go, the boys might take that as an open invitation to torment me. I risked a quick glance at Isaac. His lip twitched as he stared back, daring me to challenge him. I turned back to George.

“Isaac took it,” I said, the accusation rushing out of my mouth. “And my clothes. He took those too.”

It took George a moment to react, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he processed my words. “What?” he finally roared, his chair flying back as he shot up from the table.

Two seconds later, Benny did the same. “What?” he shouted, throwing back his own chair and mimicking his dad. Next to him, Zack started to laugh, while Parker pointed her finger at her cousin and taunted, “Somebody’s in trouble.”

George ignored all three and turned his rage toward Isaac. “You stole her towel? You went into the bathroom while she was showering?”

“Whoa, Uncle G! That’s not what happened,” Isaac said. From the look on his face, I knew he was starting to regret his actions this morning.

“I swear, boy, if you’re lying to me—”

“I’m not. I promise!” Isaac responded, feigning innocence.

I could have kicked him. “That’s not true,” I said, my voice high. “Isaac said he bet Cole five dollars that I would rather miss school than come out of the bathroom naked. They were going to leave me trapped in there and go without me.”

Cole threw his hands up in the air. “Hey, don’t drag me into this. I’ve got nothing to do with it.”

Glancing around the table, George gauged everyone’s reactions, which ranged from Alex’s high eyebrows to Danny’s blank face. He looked like he was physically holding himself back. His hands, which were gripping the edge of the table, had gone stark white.

“George,” Katherine whispered softly, putting her hand over his. He glanced down at her contact, and somehow that seemed to calm him down, because he let a breath of hot air hiss out of his mouth.

“With your colorful record, Isaac,” he said at last, trying to keep his cool, “I have a hard time believing you.”

“He’s telling the truth,” Lee said, coming to the aid of his brother. It was the first thing he’d said since ratting me out, and I could tell from the look on his face that he was enjoying the chaos he’d caused. “He was in our room all morning trying to get a paper done. I saw him.”

“Yeah, right. Isaac doesn’t care about homework—” Nathan started, but Lee elbowed him in the side and he shut his mouth.

“Can anyone verify either Jackie or Lee’s story?” Katherine asked. Zack and Benny raised their hands, and she sighed. “Can anybody else, someone who wasn’t at the dentist, tell me what happened?”

As I looked around the table, trying to find a friendly face, none of the boys would meet my eyes. Even Nathan ignored me. His mouth was pressed tight into the smallest of lines, and he concentrated on stabbing a few stray peas rolling around his plate with a fork.

For the first time since I arrived at the Walters’, the house was deadly silent, and I realized no one was going to stand up for me. “Katherine,” I said, adopting my father’s businesslike tone. “I’d ask Jack and Jordan what they know, or rather, what they caught on camera. I’m sure that will help resolve the issue. If you don’t mind, I’d like to be excused.”

Without waiting for an answer, I stood up, threw my napkin on the table, and walked out of the kitchen.

When Katherine came to apologize for her boys’ behavior later that night, she found me sitting at the windowsill, staring out into the backyard. By then it was dark. I could only see slivers of moonlight reflecting off the pool, and the grass beyond the deck had been swallowed up by the shadows as if it never existed. Half an hour before, I’d heard angry shouts from the kitchen, and judging by George’s tone, one of the boys was in deep trouble. Now everything was still.

“It’s strange,” I told her when she came and stood next to me. “How empty it feels here.”

“Empty?” she asked, a look of concern on her face.

I offered her a small smile, knowing that she’d misunderstood me. “Back home, when I looked out my window,” I started to explain, “even if it was nighttime, there was always something out there: light from the lampposts that ran along the streets, a stray taxi screeching around a corner, someone walking their dog. The dark is so thick here that when it gets quiet like this, there doesn’t seem to be anything out there except emptiness.”

“I suppose our nightlife is a bit more subtle,” Katherine said, looking out the window with me.

We both fell quiet then, and I focused on the darkness. Every once in a while I could make out the yellow blink of a firefly, but then the glow would vanish like it had never been there, and I was left with the feeling that my mind was playing tricks on me.

“Jackie,” Katherine said after a minute, “I’m sorry about how my boys treated you this morning and at dinner. It was completely unacceptable.”

There was nothing for me to say back to her, so I nodded my head. Upon my suggestion, Katherine had confiscated the twins’ camera and gone through the video clips. Not only had they caught me rushing out of the bathroom in the curtain, but the twins also recorded Isaac picking the lock on the bathroom door and stealing my clothes, so he had been caught red-handed. She apologized again, promising that everyone involved was being punished, and when I told her I would pay for the damage I caused, she laughed. The cost of the curtain was coming out of Isaac’s allowance.

She stayed for another fifteen minutes or so and chatted, asking me questions about my first two days of school and how I was settling in. I figured it was her way of checking up on me, making sure that everything was okay.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “I swear.”

I mentioned that I’d made some new friends and my classes were easy, unimportant fluff to keep her happy. In reality, I was just going through the motions: wake up, shower, go to school, sleep. Colorado was just a bookmark between the pages of my life, the place I had to stay until I was old enough to go home.

Worn out from my long day, I was yawning by ten, so I collected my toiletries and headed for the bathroom. Not surprisingly, when I stepped out into the hall and saw Lee, he scowled at me before sweeping into his room and slamming the door behind him. I stood in the hallway, taking in his angry attitude. He must have gotten in trouble for lying.

I wasn’t bothered by the fact that he’d aligned himself with Isaac at dinner, throwing me under the bus with blatant lies. Lee had made a point of being rude to me since I’d arrived, and I expected nothing less from him.

But with Nathan, it was a different story. Notes of a half-formed song drifted down the hallway, fumbling and awkward, and suddenly I felt a rush of irritation push me forward.

The music came from the only open door in the upstairs landing, and I swept into Nathan’s room without knocking. Two beds were tucked into the small room. On one side, the walls were decorated with Star Trek posters, clothes carpeted the floor, and a stack of video games next to the computer almost reached the ceiling. The other side, Nathan’s half, was clean and simple, with only a music stand stationed in the corner to indicate it was his space. He was lying on the bed closest to the door, eyes closed. His fingers slowly passed over the strings of his guitar as he worked out a song.

“Why didn’t you say something?” I asked, hurt flooding through me. We’d only known each other for a few days and still I felt betrayed. Nathan was supposed to be my friend in the house. He was the one who’d run with me the past two mornings, his constant chatter keeping painful thoughts of my family at bay, the one who walked me to class so I wouldn’t get lost, and the only person who warned me about Cole, his own brother.

Nathan lifted his head and peered at me over the top of his guitar. When he saw me standing in the doorway, he sat up.

“Jackie, I—” he started, as if he was about to give me an excuse. Then he shook his head and started over. “Look, I’ll tell you straight up. We have this thing between us kids where we agreed to never tell on each other. If we ratted each other out for every little thing someone did, we’d be grounded permanently, as in forever.”

“But how was I supposed to know?” I complained. Were the Walters really upset about some agreement they didn’t even tell me about? I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. “Nobody told me the rules. I just didn’t want your mom to be mad at me.”

“It’s stupid,” he agreed with me, “but so are most of my brothers.”

“So Isaac and them? They’re mad at me?” I hugged my arms across my chest, trying to convince myself that everything would be fine.

“No. I don’t know, maybe.” He pulled his hand through his hair.

A long sigh hissed out of my mouth. “That’s completely unfair.” “Trust me, I know.”

“So how long do you think they’ll be pissed?” I asked quietly.

“I don’t know, a week maybe?” he said somewhat uncertainly as he gave me a sideways glance. “I can try and talk some sense into them.”

“Thanks, Nathan,” I said, tucking a stray piece of hair behind my ear. “That would really mean a lot.”

I wanted to tell him that it was stupid that he even had to put in a word for me, but I knew it was no use. If there was anything that I’d learned about the Walter boys so far, it was that they were unpredictable. I couldn’t force my tight, neat world where everything made sense upon them. They lived by their own strange set of rules, and somehow I was going to have to learn to work within those boundaries and still strive for perfection.


Back in my room, I found Cole standing next to my dresser, studying the different picture frames I’d arranged on top.

“Who’s that?” he asked, staring down at my sister in the way most boys did.

Lucy was flawless. There was no other way to describe her. She could roll out of bed in the morning, her long, straight black hair looking as if she just stepped out of the salon. I never once saw her put on makeup—she didn’t need to. Her skin was always porcelain smooth, with a natural pink blush over her cheeks. But it wasn’t just Lucy’s beauty that made her so astonishing.

She was a natural when it came to modeling, and for that reason my mother loved her. Lucy always knew just the right way to move her body— a slight turn of the neck or curve of the leg—to create the most dramatic pose. Her eyes always shined as if they were flirting with the camera, and her smile was big and bold. In my mother’s eyes, Lucy was a dream, everything a fashion designer could want from a daughter.

We were only a year apart, and still I looked at her in a “you’re so big and wise” sort of way, like freshmen do seniors on the first day of high school. Maybe it was because everything she did was so natural, as if she had been born knowing something that the rest of us didn’t. Each year after my birthday, we would be the same age for exactly eleven days, and each time I would think, this is it. I’m finally going to feel as old and smart as Lucy. Somehow I would suddenly know the things she did, and then my mom would notice me too. But then Lucy’s birthday would come and she would magically skip ahead five years, fifteen going on twenty, always out of my reach.

In my heart, I knew I could never be like my sister—we were just too different. She was like our mom, carefree and personable, while I was like our dad, calculating and serious. I don’t remember when I came to the conclusion, but I realized that if I could be as successful as my dad, my mom would start to love me the way she did Lucy. After all, she fell in love with him even though they were opposites.

That was the start of my obsession with being perfect. If I was going have the kind of career that my father did, there was no room for mistakes. I started planning out my life. First, I would graduate as valedictorian of my class. Next, I would attend Princeton University, same as my father, and intern with a top New York corporation. Then I could start working at my father’s company, my rightful legacy.

I dropped my toiletries on the desk. “Lucy. She’s my sister.”

Fully expecting some inappropriate remark about how bangable she was, I was caught off guard when Cole set the frame back in its place and replied, “You look like her.”


It was the nicest compliment that someone had paid me in a long time. Not because Cole thought I looked like my sister, who was one of the most beautiful girls I knew, but because it made me feel like I was carrying part of my sister with me.

Cole turned to face me, not even noticing how much his words had affected me, softening my aching heart, even if it was only by the slightest bit. But then again, maybe he did know. He was clearly aware of how girls acted around him all of the time, and perhaps he was good at picking up on sudden changes in people, like shallow breathing and twitching hands. Either way, he didn’t hint at it.

“Just wanted to check on you,” he said, heading toward the door. “Make sure Isaac or Lee didn’t kill you or anything.”

I nodded my head to indicated that yes, I was still breathing. “Nathan told me about your guys’ honor code or whatever he called it,” I told him, my voice low. “I didn’t know. I only wanted to clarify to your mom what happened, but Isaac just—”

“You don’t have to explain yourself, Jackie,” Cole said flatly. “If I were in your position, I would have done the same thing.”

“So you guys won’t be giving me the silent treatment, then?”

“I’m not. Nathan clearly isn’t either,” he said, heading toward my bedroom door. “You’ll be fine. Just remember the rule in the future.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding my head. “Thanks.” “No, I should be the one thanking you.” “For what?”

“For surprising me.” “Surprising you?”

Cole smiled. “I fully expected I’d have to fork over those five dollars to Isaac. I’m glad you’re not as predictable as I thought.” He shut the door before I could process what he said. When he was gone, it hit me. Cole had known about the bet all along.

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