*This should be read after the teaser at the end of Falls Boys. This is unedited and subject to change. Anyone may translate and repost.
I’m done tolerating people who think I need to be handled. I learned how to use my middle finger long before I ever got a driver’s license. Screw him!
Screw both of them. Aro was right. I have to look after myself.
I ball my fists over and over again, shivering under the hot water as it soaks my icy clothes. I peel off my flannel and drop it on the shower floor, hearing it slosh like a wet mop. My teeth chatter and locks of wet hair hang in my eyes as I hug myself over my tank top and jeans.
All the Rebels are no doubt congratulating themselves.
They’re probably watching the bridge in hopes of seeing me run back to the Falls.
But I’m not going anywhere.
I squeeze my fists again so tight my nails dig into my palms. There’s no curfew here. No adult supervision. No bedtimes. Hell, I might stay till I graduate.
The shower curtain whips open and I dart my eyes up, seeing Hunter glaring down at me.
I clench my jaw. “I don’t want you here.”
But he steps into the stall anyway, wearing fresh, dry jeans as he squats down in front of me. “I’m the reason you didn’t drown tonight.”
“You’re the reason for all of this!” I shout at my cousin.
He left me. Over a year ago.
He moved an hour away with his grandfather and ever since has ghosted us on holidays and never answered my calls or texted me back.
If he had stayed in Shelburne Falls, I never would’ve come here. I never would’ve volunteered as a hostage for this dumb rivalry, but after so long without him, I had to get out. Turns out, he’s been right here for months. Just across the river. Only a few miles away.
He left everyone, including me.
Why did he give up on me?
Steam billows around us and everything blurs in my view. Does he have any idea how hard it’s been at home? What made him think I wouldn’t miss him? This is all his fault.
“You were my best friend,” I say, my throat thick with tears. “Did you know that?”
I search his eyes, which are green like his mom’s and identical to his twin brother’s. They never used to look like Kade’s, though. Hunter’s were always a little bigger, as if he were either perpetually in wonder of something or waiting for something.
Now, they’re angry. I can barely tell him and Kade apart anymore.
“I don’t have very many friends,” I tell him, in case he gives a shit. “They talk about me behind my back at school. They’re nice to my face, but they think I’m a joke.”
He narrows his eyes.
I swallow through the needles in my throat. Even the men in my family all but pat me on the head and think my entire personality is some phase that I’ll grow out of.
“And you keep looking at me like you hate me,” I whisper, my cheeks burning under his scowl. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
I care about him. I care what he thinks. He’s not just anybody. He’s a part of me. Our fathers are only step-brothers, but that never mattered.
He’s a part of me.
“Why do you hate me?” I ask. “I needed you. There were so many times when I was dying to tell you things.”
“I wanted to tell you!” I shout, seeing him blink.
I mean, what the hell? Why is he trying to insert me into his and Kade’s bullshit? We’re not a package deal. This is about him and me. No one else.
I want to see Hunter in the same room as his brother again—at the very least—but they’ve always had problems. Hunter and I haven’t. I know him best.
Or I did.
He was good.
Why did he change?
“I love you,” I tell him.
He sucks in a short, shallow breath.
The shower spills over his shoulders, down his chest, and the steam wets his hair. His gaze doesn’t falter, though.
“There’s no one like you.” I smile a little as I soften my voice. “You’re always reading five books at a time. You buy Christmas presents for other people’s pets. You never eat bread crust. Like even if it’s a hamburger bun, you’ll invent a crust that isn’t there…”
Like, seriously. He leaves a crescent of bread. Even on a hot dog bun.
“You tell me everything I missed when I come back from the bathroom at a movie theater,” I point out.
My brother hates it when I do that.
“And you hate it as much as I do…” I add, “when people eat while talking on TikTok videos and then they make you wait while they take more bites and chew. It’s so obnoxious, right?”
Amusement hits his eyes.
“I can hear your smiles when you talk,” I say. “I love that all of my baseball caps were once yours, and I love that you look for me.” I pause. “Or you used to.”
Maybe I didn’t realize all of this when he was around—or realize how much I’d miss him—but I always knew I loved him. He and Kade were never a package deal for me. It wasn’t both or nothing. They were always distinguishable from each other. I need Hunter.
“It seems I’m always chasing something.” I shake my head, thinking about home and school. “Other cars on the track. My parents with their busy schedules. School…” I meet his eyes. “I used to wake up as a kid and you’d be asleep next to me. You’d just show up at some point through the night. I never felt unwanted. You looked for me when you walked in a room.” I lower my voice. “Me.”
My parents love me, but they don’t count. I’ve been homesick for him since he left.
I stare at his face, seeing the slight way his right eye zones in on me more than the left, because he doesn’t want to stay mad, but he’s trying hard to.
His stern jaw that looks more angular than it did when we were twelve.
His eyebrows and how they got a little darker. His bottom lip and how it’s fuller than I remember. I gaze at it.
He’s kissed girls. I know he has.
They were all looking at him down on the ice tonight.
I should know about it, right? Those are things he should be telling me, because we’re friends. I should know who and when and how far he’s gone. I should know everything about him. I used to.
I clench my jaw. Those girls looked at him like I wasn’t standing right there. I mean, it’s not like they need my permission or anything, but I just…
I just don’t like it.
I grind my teeth together. I should know if he’s done more. Who he’s with. Who he’s in a car with. Who’s trying to touch him.
He has a tan left over from summer that still makes his neck and chest look golden, the veins in his hands and arms course just underneath the skin. His muscles are bigger now, probably because he spent the summer getting ready to face Kade on the field this season.
So much is different.
His fingers are still the same, though—long, like an artist’s.
It makes them good at holding a football too, I guess.
“We’ve slept in the same bed a hundred times and taken baths together,” I laugh under my breath. “I’ve spent more of my waking hours with you than anyone. You’re in all of my history, Hunter.”
“History…” he murmurs. “Yes.”
He says it as if I meant something bad by it.
My heart starts to ache, but he rises, looking down at me. “Things have changed, Dylan.”
I leap to my feet. “Nothing has changed!”
“Everything has changed!” he barks. “We’re not kids anymore. When are you going to grow up?”
I recoil like I’ve being hammered into the dirt. I’m not grown up? He’s the one who ran away.
I drop my eyes, seeing his jeans, soaked again, and his bare feet on the tile. Why do things have to change? He used to love being around me.
I stare at his waist as water spills off his belt that hangs open. The top button of his jeans is open too. Something swirls low in my belly.
I was fifteen the last time I had my arms around his waist. What changed in only a few years?
“You think we can still play?” he asks. “Like we used to? Really?”
I mean, I still like to climb trees.
“Aren’t we too old?” he asks.
I shake my head. “We can still race bikes. It’s just motorcycles now. Right?”
A faint smile crosses his lips.
“Explore caves?” he presses. “Roller blade? Dive for swim rings? Hide and seek?”
“Build a fort?” I say, smiling. “Water balloons?”
See? He’s getting the hang of it again.
But then he takes a step toward me and reaches out, placing one hand on the shower wall and the other on the shower rod, his chest splayed in front of me. My heart thuds hard in my chest.
“Take a bath?” he adds.
My chest caves. Take a bath…
Like we used to.
I hold Hunter’s eyes, his steady, hard gaze unblinking.
He’s testing me. Trying to get me to fold. To forfeit. Trying to make me angry.
Trying to make me cry or pout or run.
The pulse in my neck throbs, but I don’t get mad.
I don’t run.
I feel my nipples harden and poke through my tank top.
And he pulls the curtain closed, shielding us both inside.
Thanks for reading! I’ll post when I have a release date! <3