Chapter no 8

My Life with the Walter Boys

“Cole, catch,” said Isaac, throwing the car keys to his cousin as we all trudged down the porch steps. It was Monday morning, and we were all moving slowly, not looking forward to school.

“You drive,” Cole said, tossing the keys back to Isaac. “I have my own ride.”

“What?” Alex demanded, and we all looked up at Cole. He smirked as a slick, black Porsche turned into the driveway. Everyone stared as the car pulled up, finally sliding to a stop in front of him.

“It’s getting a bit cramped in the truck, don’t you think?” Cole asked. The window rolled down, and I recognized one of the boys who sat with

Cole at lunch. “Hey, Walter,” he said, looking annoyed. “You coming or not? We’re going to be late.”

“Dude, chill. We have plenty of time,” Cole answered, jogging around the side of the car. He opened the door, leaned down, and said something to his friend that I couldn’t hear. “Hey, Jackie,” he said, glancing back up. “Want a ride too? You don’t have to go with the losers if you don’t want.” He offered me one of his cocky grins and opened the back door as if he expected I was going to say yes.

Danny, Nathan, Isaac, and Lee had already made their way down to the truck and were trying their best to ignore Cole as they piled their backpacks in the bed. Alex, however, was still standing next to me on the front walkway. I could feel him staring at me, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he had gone rigid. But he didn’t have anything to worry about.

Until I knew exactly what had happened between the two of them, I was going to stick with Alex since he seemed like the more trustworthy one of the pair.

“Actually,” I said, shouldering my satchel. “I think I prefer riding with the losers.”

Cole’s only response was to stare at me, surprise evident on his face. Turning back toward Alex, I offered him a thumbs-up before making my way over to the truck. I kept my eyes glued to its rusty red shape so I wouldn’t break my resolve and peek at Cole. One glance at those blue eyes and I would crumble. Nathan pushed open the passenger-side door for me and offered me a hand up. As I climbed in, I heard a car door slam and gravel crunching.

“Damn,” Nathan whistled, watching the Porsche disappear through the rearview mirror. “Did you see his face?”

“No,” I said, buckling my seat belt. “Why, was it bad?”

“He’s beyond pissed,” Alex said, laughing, as he climbed into the backseat. The grin on his face was huge. “Man, I wish Jack and Jordan could have got that on camera. Cole Walter getting turned down.” He was shaking his head in disbelief.

“It was just a car ride,” I said, starting to feel a little nervous. “Not a marriage proposal.”

“You don’t understand.” Nathan had a look of pity etched on his face. “I tried to warn you on the first day. Cole doesn’t get rejected. You’re a challenge to him now,” he said, and Danny nodded his head in agreement.

“What do I do?”

“Just ignore him,” Alex said, like it was no big deal. But I knew how hard it was to ignore Cole when he was around. I wasn’t good at it at all.

“Pray,” Danny muttered at the same time. My eyes went wide.

“Isaac, can we just leave for school now?” Lee demanded. “I don’t really care about this stupid soap opera. I’ve got classes to skip.”

“Preaching to the choir,” Isaac said as he started the truck. “I was just waiting for Captain Dork to get in.”

Alex rolled his eyes but otherwise disregarded his cousin’s insult. The purple marks were still present under his eyes, but unlike yesterday, he looked positively cheery. The truck lurched backward and started down the driveway, and I stared out of the window into the right side mirror. Unfortunately, I thought, as I caught a glimpse of my face, I don’t look nearly as happy as him.

Twenty minutes later when we arrived at school, my stomach was still a knotted mess. It didn’t help that when I climbed out of the truck, the skin on the back of my neck prickled and I knew that I was being watched. Looking around, I spotted Cole sitting on the front steps with a flock of girls around him, but he wasn’t paying them any attention. He was staring across the parking lot at me. I knew that I would have to face him in math class, and the thought made my fingers tremble.

“Hey, Alex,” I said as we walked toward the school. “Where do you normally eat lunch?”

“I don’t really eat lunch,” he said, his cheeks going pink. “Normally, I— um, go to the computer lab to get a quick round of Gathering of Gods in.”

“That’s the online game you play with Kim, right?” I asked. “Yeah, you play?”

“No, but I was wondering if you wanted to take a break today and eat lunch with us.”

“You and Kim?”

“And our other friends, yeah.” He looked like he was about to say no, so I quickly added, “Pretty please?”

He was clearly confused but nodded his head anyway. “Sure, I guess.” “Perfect,” I told him as we walked into anatomy together. “Pick me up

by the math room. We can walk down together.”

As we sat down, I smiled to myself. I’d decided the best way to fight off one Walter boy was with another. And my plan worked perfectly. Later that morning, I turned up at math just before the bell rang so Cole wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk to me. Then, when he saw Alex waiting for me after class, he swept out of the room without a backward glance.

“Hi,” I greeted Alex cheerfully. Kim was standing next to him, an impressed look splashed across her features.

“How’d you do it?” she asked. “What?”

“Get him out of the computer lab for lunch. I’ve been trying for ages.” “I just asked nicely.”

“That’s a neat trick,” Kim grumbled. “You’ll have to show it to me someday.”

“I’m not a dog, you know,” Alex shot back. But we knew he wasn’t really angry, and the three of us made our way to the lunchroom laughing.


Despite Nathan’s warning, my next two weeks in the Walter house were Cole free. I avoided him as best I could, and in turn, he stayed out of my way. The most interaction we had was one-way—from my window, I could hear everything that went on in the pool below. Swimming was Cole’s entertainment of choice when he brought one of his hookups over to the house, and in the past few days, there had been a revolving door of girls in bikinis.

My plan seemed to be working. Because I was hanging out with Alex, Cole left me alone. Alex and I became friends quickly, and now he was eating lunch with me and my friends regularly, not to mention that we always did our anatomy homework together. He had been right—knowing part of his past made it easier for me to open up around him. He was like the brother I’d never had.

I was on my way down to his room, my satchel slung over my shoulder, when I heard the fighting.

“Come on, Alex. You’ve blown me off all week.”

The door to Alex and Nathan’s room was ajar. At first I thought Alex was fighting with Nathan, but then I recognized Lee’s voice.

“I know, dude, but Jackie and I have a huge test in anatomy that we need to get ready for,” Alex said back.

“You’re ditching me?” Lee demanded. “We always watch the game together. Screw her!” There was a pause, and when Alex didn’t answer, Lee continued. “Oh, I get it,” he said. “That’s exactly what you want to do, isn’t it?”

“No!” Alex hissed, quickly defending himself. “We’re just studying!” “Yeah, whatever,” Lee said, storming out of the room. When he saw me

standing a few feet away, he shoved past me, his shoulder ramming into mine. “Bitch,” he coughed out and kept walking. Two seconds later, his bedroom door slammed shut.

I contemplated walking back to my room after the encounter, but Alex poked his head out into the hall.

“Oh shit,” he said, running a hand through his messy hair. “You heard all that, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, kind of,” I said, looking away from him. “If you want to hang out with Lee, I understand.”

“No, Jackie, don’t worry about it,” Alex said and pushed his door open all the way. “Come in.”

I wavered for a moment, not sure what to do, but then Alex took my satchel from me, so I had no choice but to follow him in. His side of the room was just as messy as the last time I saw it, if not worse. Clothes were scattered everywhere, and empty bags of junk food covered his desk. Nathan’s half looked like a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“I didn’t really get the chance to tidy up,” Alex told me, kicking a pair of shoes out of the way as he led me over to his desk.

I laughed. “Alex, you’d need a SWAT team to clean up this mess,” I said, picking my way across the floor and being careful not to step on any dirty laundry.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, pulling out his computer chair so I could sit down. On the seat was a moldy plate that had turned so green I couldn’t even tell what type of food was on it. Alex looked at me

sheepishly before grabbing the plate and shoving it under his bed. “I’ll take care of that later,” he muttered. “Have a seat.”

“I don’t know,” I said, eyeing the chair suspiciously to see whether or not it was molding as well. “It might be dangerous.”

Alex shot me a look. “Funny.”

“What?” I said, but sat down anyway. “Can’t be too careful.”

After dragging a chair over from Nathan’s desk, Alex sat down next to me and pulled out his textbook. “So what’s our plan of attack?” he asked.

It was just a figure of speech, but Alex had no clue how seriously I took his question. I’d never been one of those really creative kids who could dance and sing or paint a pretty picture. There weren’t any doodles in my notebooks at school because I couldn’t even draw a stick figure. But the one talent I could brag about was my ability to study. It didn’t matter what type of test it was. As long as I had a decent amount of time to prepare, I could ace anything. This anatomy test would be no different. After all, it was my first academic performance at my new school, and I wanted to set the bar high.

“We should start by going over the review sheet and defining all the terms,” I said, pulling the important piece of paper out of my organizer. I handed it to Alex to look over since I knew he’d already lost the one we were given in class. “I’ve color-coded my notes and arranged them by lecture to assist us. If we can’t find a specific answer in my notes, which is highly unlikely, we can turn to the textbook as a last resort.”

“What about my notes?” he asked, glancing up from the review sheet. He set it down, and I tried not to cringe as the paper soaked up a tiny puddle of mysterious liquid—probably one of the Kickstart energy drinks that I saw him drinking every morning—that was spilled on his desk.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, snatching the paper back. “The only notes you took was the picture you drew of Mr. Piper where you labeled all the facial bones. And those weren’t even accurate.”

“Point taken,” Alex said, scratching his head in embarrassment.

“All right,” I said, glancing at the first category listed on the review sheet. “Let’s start with the appendicular skeletal bones…”

Half an hour later, we had only covered the first twenty of the seventy-five terms we needed to know. I was trying to keep Alex focused on studying, I really was, but that was easier said than done. Every few minutes his e-mail would beep, causing him to glance at his computer. By the time I focused his attention back on anatomy, another e-mail would ping and the process would start all over again.

Finally I gave up.

“Just check it,” I said with a sigh as another message drew him out of our textbook. Either Alex had a serious problem with junk mail, or someone was really trying to get hold of him—and apparently whoever it was didn’t know how to use a cell phone. This was the tenth e-mail in the past five minutes.

“Check what?” he asked, his eyes darting back to the passage he was supposed to be reading.

“Your e-mail. I know you’re dying to.”

“Sorry,” he said, but he quickly pulled up his inbox. He double-clicked on the first little blue envelope, his eyes scanning the message. “My guild is going on a ZG raid.”

He’d lost me in one sentence. “Guild? Raid?” I asked. “What’s that?” “It’s gamer talk,” Alex said, as he went through the rest of his e-mails.

“You know, for Gathering of Gods.”

“Oh, right. I’ve heard Kim talking about it before,” I said absentmindedly, “but I didn’t really get it.”

That was possibly the worst thing I could have said to Alex. He turned to me as an unsettling smile crept onto his face. “Put your notes away, young padawan. Much to teach you, I have.”

Alex was so enthusiastic about Gathering of Gods that he couldn’t just explain it to me. He had to show me. And by showing, I mean he forced me to play. After explaining that game play consisted primarily of completing

dangerous quests, he helped me create a character, which took quite some time.

“Why does it matter what color my hair is?” I asked, as he clicked through all forty different styles.

“Because,” Alex said, as if I were being childish, “you’ll never be able to change it. You have to go with something you really love.”

When it came to choosing what race my character was, he got even more frustrated. The options consisted of humans, dwarves, demons, and fae, but I wouldn’t pick one until I knew which was the most successful.

“It’s a completely legitimate question, Alex,” I told him. “Which one is the best?”

“One isn’t better than another,” he tried to clarify. “I personally like the demons because I think they’re badass, but lots of people like fae too.”

“So I should be a demon?” I asked, moving the curser so it hovered over an ugly-looking creature with horns and scales.

“No, I’m not saying that.” Frustration tinged his voice. “Each race has a different skill set, so it all depends on what you enjoy playing the most.”

“But how can I know which one I like the most if I’ve never played the game before?”

Alex took a deep breath, trying to remain patient. “Just pick one, Jackie.”

“At least tell me which race will help me beat the game in the least time.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Alex replied and snatched the mouse from my hand. Then, making my decision for me, he clicked on the human race. “The game is ongoing. It never ends.”

“Wait. You can’t win?” I said with a frown. “What’s the point of playing, then?”

“This isn’t like Monopoly or Candy Land—the point of the game is to improve your character.”

“Okay, whatever,” I said, taking the mouse back from him. I clicked on the fae, a willowy creature with pastel-colored wings. “But I don’t want to

be human. That’s boring.”

I wasn’t very good at Gathering of Gods. Everything moved so fast, and Alex would shout confusing instructions at me such as, “Employ your fire shield now!” or “Not that fire shield, your other one!” Still, after an hour and a half of struggling, I increased my character’s experience level from one to three. I was quite pleased with myself, but Alex wasn’t very optimistic.

“Definitely not a natural,” he said, as he logged out of the game, “but I’ll make a gamer out of you yet.”

“I doubt it,” I sighed, collecting my anatomy material. I’d wasted a good chunk of my study time trying to learn the game, and as a result, I knew I would be up late reviewing all my notes. “Thanks, though. I had fun.”

The door swung open before he could respond.

“Hey, Alex, I want to talk to you,” Cole said, strolling into the room. When he saw me sitting at the computer desk, he stopped. “Oh, I didn’t know you were here.”

“Um, yeah,” I replied.

“I guess I’ll have to come back later,” he said, turning to leave as if I’d caused some huge inconvenience.

“No, it’s okay,” I said, jumping to my feet. “We were just finishing up anyway.”

“Thanks for helping me study,” said Alex as he watched me pack up my satchel.

“That didn’t count as studying,” I told him with a laugh. “I need to spend at least another four hours on this.”

“You’re crazy,” Alex said as he handed me my notebook. “That was the most time I’ve spent on school, like, ever.”

“Then I’m glad I could help,” I said, offering him a smile. “See you tomorrow.”

“Night, Jackie,” he said as I turned to leave.

Cole was watching me from the doorway, his face blank. When I reached him, he didn’t move.

“Cole,” I said, raising an eyebrow. He stared at me for a moment longer before stepping aside and letting me leave. As I slipped out into the hallway, he slammed the door shut behind me.


The dream kept me up again. As I slipped downstairs toward the kitchen, I realized that I was addicted to Katherine’s warm-milk-and-honey remedy. Whenever I couldn’t sleep, I would make a cup and sit at the kitchen table, nursing the drink until my eyelids were heavy. I liked to linger downstairs with my mug instead of going back to my room, because there was always the chance that I would run into Danny.

My ability to creep down the messy stairs improved, but normally he heard me coming and would disappear before I got to the living room. I always knew when I’d scared him off. The TV would be turned on to some late-night crime show, and snack food would be sitting on the coffee table. When the TV wasn’t on, I knew he hadn’t come down and I would sit in the kitchen with the lights off, hoping to catch him if he appeared.

But tonight was different. When I tiptoed into the living room, Danny was still sitting on the couch, his hand in a bag of potato chips. I stood at the edge of the carpet, staring in disbelief. He glanced over at me for a moment, but his eyes quickly flicked back to the drama on the screen. Not wanting to spook him, I slowly backed into the kitchen before proceeding to make my milk and honey.

After the microwave dinged, I used the sleeve of my robe to pull out my steaming drink and headed in the direction of the TV. I knew that Danny would be gone by now, and I knew I would have to turn it off. To my surprise, he was still there watching his show.

“You going to sit down?” he asked, his eyes never leaving the screen as I hovered at the edge of the room.

“I—um, sure,” I stammered, completely caught off guard. I figured sitting next to him on the couch would push my luck, so I took a spot in the big armchair, folding my legs underneath myself as I settled down. We

stayed like that for the next few episodes, quietly enjoying each other’s company while neither of us said a word.

It was almost four o’clock when I realized that I had dozed off. The TV was dark and Danny was gone, but he must have turned on the small reading lamp for me because the room was bathed in a soft yellow glow. Happy that I was making progress with Danny, I stayed there for a moment, smiling to myself before heading up to bed.


“New York!” Something poked my face. “If you don’t wake up, I’m not going to take you to school.”

Groaning, I cracked my eyes open. Cole’s blurry outline hovered over me, his finger ready to jab my face again.

“Go away,” I told him and rolled over, burying my face in my pillow. It was too early to deal with his crap. “Who said I wanted to go with you anyway?”

“Fine,” I heard him say, “but the guys already left, so if you miss your anatomy test, don’t blame me.”

“I know you think you’re so funny, Cole—” I started to say, opening my eyes again to glance at the clock. I’d set my alarm for six, leaving me plenty of time to iron my clothes and shower, but my heart jumped when I saw the neon green digits—7:26. “No, no, no!” I cried, throwing the covers off me.

“I told you,” Cole said, backing away as I started to rush around my room.

“This can’t be happening.” There was no way I would be able to get ready in time. My hair alone took half an hour to straighten.

“Chill, Jackie. Just throw on some sweats and let’s roll.”

“Throw on some sweats?” I hissed, swinging around to glare at him. “Have you ever seen me wear sweats?”

“Not really. You normally look like some kind of preppie going to a tea party.”

“That’s because I don’t own any! I’m never going to have enough time to iron an outfit.”

“Okay, okay,” said Cole, holding up his hands to calm me down. “Wait here. I have an idea.” He hurried back a few minutes later carrying a pair of jeans and a jersey. “Try this. It’s a pair of my mom’s old jeans. They might be a bit too big, but they should work.”

“I can’t wear this to school,” I said a minute later as I looked in the mirror. “I look like a slob.” The jersey swamped me, so large that it almost reached my knees. I tried tucking the fabric up, but it slipped down a second later. The jeans were even worse.

“Jackie, it’s only one day. Nobody’s going to care.”

“Well, what about my hair?” I said, trying to arrange my usual ribbon. My fingers were shaking because I was so frustrated and my bangs wouldn’t lie right. “It’s a mess.”

“Stop,” Cole said, grabbing my hands. “I like the curls. It’s natural.”

His words came out so softly and easily. Not forced, like he was telling me something just to make me feel better. I opened my mouth, even though I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say, but a horn honked outside, cutting me off.

“We need to go.” Grabbing my satchel, Cole pulled me from my room and out of the house. Then we were inside the shiny, black Porsche, speeding toward school.

“Jackie, you remember my friend Nick,” Cole said, twisting in the front so he could see me.

“Hey.” Nick nodded his head in greeting.

“Yeah, hi,” I muttered, as I stared out the window.

For the next few minutes, Cole tried to start a conversation with me, but I responded with one-word answers. I was too flustered. Finally he gave up and turned to Nick.

“So, you coming to the warehouse today?” Curious, I turned to watch Cole.

“I don’t know,” Nick said, glancing at me as if this was something I shouldn’t be hearing. “Do we have supplies?”

“Plenty,” Cole responded. “Kate scored huge last night.”

“I suppose,” Nick said, still not sounding entirely convinced. “We’re not taking my car, though.”

“Might be able to snag the truck keys.” Cole pulled out his phone. “I’ll text Isaac.”

We were coming up on Valley View High now. I could see the building at the top of the hill in the distance. Cole’s fingers were punching away, but Nick still looked uncomfortable.

“Don’t invite anyone else, okay?” Nick said, his eyes flickering toward me again. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”

Hearing this, I focused my attention back out the window. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but whatever it was, it sounded like trouble. I kept my mouth shut until the car was parked.

“Thanks a bunch, Nick,” I said, throwing open my door. By now, the parking lot was mostly empty, and only the kids who didn’t care if they were late lingered outside. “See you guys later.”

I tore across the pavement without waiting for them, and thankfully, I managed to make it to class as the final bell rang. Slamming my bag down on the table, I turned to Alex. He was staring down at his textbook, pretending to cram in some last-minute studying, but his eyes weren’t moving over the page.

“What the heck was up with this morning?” I demanded. “What do you mean?” he said, not bothering to look up.

“You guys left without me,” I said as I pulled a handful of pencils from my bag. “I had to get a ride from Cole’s friend Nick.”

Alex bit his lip. “Cole said you wanted to go with him.” “Are you for real? When did he say that?”

“At breakfast,” he told me.

“Unbelievable,” I said, gritting my teeth. Cole was in serious trouble. “Sorry?”

“Alex, my alarm clock didn’t go off this morning. Cole must have messed with it, because he didn’t wake me up until after you guys were already gone.”

“Really?” Alex asked, finally looking up at me. When he saw how irritated I was, relief washed over his face. “Thank God. I thought you gave in to him.”

“I didn’t. And by the way, I’m totally mad at you,” I said, half joking. “I didn’t have any time to get ready this morning. Do you see what I’m wearing?”

Alex looked down, and his face froze when he spotted the jersey. “Where did you get that?”

“Cole loaned it to me. I didn’t have anything else to wear.”

“He loaned it to you?” Alex asked, as if that was the most insane thing he’d ever heard.

“Yeah. What’s the big deal?” I asked. “It’s just an old jersey.”

“But that’s Cole’s football jersey. I haven’t seen it since…” Alex trailed off, too shocked to finish his sentence.

Suddenly a conversation I had with Nathan came back to me. He used to be the best receiver in the state until he got tackled wrong and broke his leg…

“Since the game he got hurt,” I finished for him. “Yeah, how’d you know?”

“Nathan mentioned it to me when I first got here.”

“Jackie,” Alex said slowly, still shaking his head in disbelief. “The thing you don’t understand is that football was Cole’s life. After he lost his scholarship, he stopped talking about the game completely. It was like he’d never played at all.”


“And for him to just give you his jersey…” Alex said. “I don’t even know what that means.”

Neither did I.

Mr. Piper appeared at the front of the room, clapping his hands to get out attention. “All right, everyone, listen up!” he said. “Put everything away. Books and notes under the table. It’s time to take this test.”


It was the easiest test I had ever taken. Even though I was distracted by what Alex told me, I was able to get through all the questions in thirty minutes. If that was any indication of what my examinations would be like, these last few months were going to be a breeze. But for some reason, the thought didn’t lighten my mood.

As my morning went on, I became more and more self-conscious about wearing Cole’s jersey. I almost asked Heather if I could borrow something. I had seen the backup outfits she kept in her locker in case someone showed up wearing the same clothes as her. But if I borrowed something, I’d have to tell the girls about what happened this morning and they would freak out. Intent on asking Cole exactly why he let me wear the jersey, I arrived at math five minutes early so I could ambush him before class started. As I stood outside the door waiting for him, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“God,” I gasped, spinning around. “You scared me to death.”

“Sorry.” It was Mary, Alex’s ex-girlfriend, and the way her eyes narrowed made it seem as if she wasn’t sorry at all. “You’re Jackie, right?”

“Um, yes…” I said back. “My name is Mary Black.”

“Nice to meet you, Mary,” I responded slowly and calmly. “Can I help you with something?”

“I really like your outfit,” she said, sarcasm tainting her voice. “Very… cas-chic. Is it part of your mother’s new collection?”


“Oh wait,” said Mary, a sick grin appearing on her face. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” She took a step toward me, her smile transforming into a glare. “Listen to me, new girl. Stay away from Alex. He’s mine.”

I was so shocked that I just stared, openmouthed.

“You got it?” she snapped angrily when I didn’t respond. I nodded my head. “Good.” She smirked. “It was so nice to meet you, Jackie.”

As she walked away, I could only think of one thing. Not Mary’s threat or Alex. Not even how angry I was with Cole, because it didn’t matter. All I could think of were those four, horrible words: She’s dead, isn’t she?

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