主页 Maybe Someday
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Absolutely beautiful. Just heartwarming and amazing and I just have no words. It isn't a typical romance but in a good way. The FEELS I got from this are just incredible as well as the frustration at some point
20 November 2020 (21:45)
I was about to cry reading this book! The way things flow is great. I was living in the fictional world from the start to the end. I really recommend this book to be read
26 January 2021 (17:26)
Even though you can’t control falling in love,But i’m totally pissed at Ridge,,,Don’t come after me,I don’t blame syd at all because all she was after was to be loved!What a good book?More grace to your elbow ?
13 March 2021 (16:45)
Unconventional and emotional.It's heartwarming, twist and turns and all. Definitely would recommend checking it out <3
20 April 2021 (03:54)
The Maybe series by far my favorite novel by Colleen Hoover..Wow!! Its a riveting story..it educative, informative, funny, love, togetherness...Maybe Not is really funny.. Warren and Bridgette will make u laugh. I LOVE THE MAYBE SERIES!!!!
07 May 2021 (22:36)
One of the best novels in the world..My absolute favorite
17 May 2021 (23:49)
I love Collen Hoover's books
19 May 2021 (04:15)
Lo descargo pero no me deja verlo como hago?
02 June 2021 (00:58)
Good book. Its cute. Read it
05 June 2021 (22:59)
Just finished reading THIS book and ???? I just got glued till the end....the twist and turns. Such a great read. Quite an emotional one too
07 June 2021 (01:47)
I really love what you guys do here, my life has changed positively since I resolve to reading books, always happy been here.
12 June 2021 (16:43)
I just read this book and it was so great & amazing !
19 June 2021 (19:34)
This is magnificent story of glory of silence instutive love.
It equolently reflects true and passionate love. Ridge is patient, loyal, selfless, caring, loving & understanding everything that Sydney needs & is. One of the best book ever read?.
It equolently reflects true and passionate love. Ridge is patient, loyal, selfless, caring, loving & understanding everything that Sydney needs & is. One of the best book ever read?.
16 July 2021 (13:24)
Also by Colleen Hoover Slammed Point of Retreat Hopeless This Girl Losing Hope Finding Cinderella First published in the United States by Atria Books, 2014 An imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc. First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2014 A CBS COMPANY Copyright © Colleen Hoover 2014 This book is copyright under the Berne Convention. No reproduction without permission. ® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved. The right of Colleen Hoover to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd 1st Floor 222 Gray’s Inn Road London WC1X 8HB www.simonandschuster.co.uk Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Paperback ISBN: 978-1-47113-551-4 eBook ISBN: 978-1-47113-552-1 This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY For Carol Keith McWilliams Special Content Dear Reader, Maybe Someday is more than just a story. It’s more than just a book. It’s an experience, and one that we are excited and grateful to share with you. I had the pleasure of collaborating with musician Griffin Peterson in order to provide an original sound track to accompany this novel. Griffin and I worked closely together to bring these characters and their lyrics to life so that you will be provided with the ultimate reading experience. It is recommended these songs be heard in the order they appear throughout the novel. Please scan the QR code below to experience the Maybe Someday sound track. This gives you access to the songs and also to bonus material, should you wish to learn m; ore behind the collaboration and implementation of this project. Thank you for being a part of our project. It has been incredible for us to create, and we hope it will be just as incredible for you to enjoy. Colleen Hoover and Griffin Peterson To listen to the songs, please scan the QR code above. To do so, download the free Microsoft Tag app. Then hold your phone’s camera a few inches away from the tag, and enjoy what comes next. You may also visit the website at www.maybesomedaysoundtrack.com to access this content. Contents Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One Chapter Twenty Two Chapter Twenty Three Chapter Twenty Four Chapter Twenty Five Prologue Sydney I just punched a girl in the face. Not just any girl. My best friend. My roommate. Well, as of five minutes ago, I guess I should call her my ex-roommate. Her nose began bleeding almost immediately, and for a second, I felt bad for hitting her. But then I remembered what a lying, betraying whore she is, and it made me want to punch her again. I would have if Hunter hadn’t prevented it by stepping between us. So instead, I punched him. I didn’t do any damage to him, unfortunately. Not like the damage I’d done to my hand. Punching someone hurts a lot worse than I imagined it would. Not that I spend an excessive amount of time imagining how it would feel to punch people. Although I am having that urge again as I stare down at my phone at the incoming text from Ridge. He’s another one I’d like to get even with. I know he technically has nothing to do with my current predicament, but he could have given me a heads-up a little sooner. Therefore, I’d like to punch him, too. Ridge: Are you OK? Do u want to come up until the rain stops? Of course, I don’t want to come up. My fist hurts enough as it is, and if I went up to Ridge’s apartment, it would hurt a whole lot worse after I finished with him. I turn around and look up at his balcony. He’s leaning against his sliding-glass door; phone in hand, watching me. It’s almost dark, but the lights from the courtyard illuminate his face. His dark eyes lock with mine and the way his mouth curls up into a soft, regretful smile makes it hard to remember why I’m even upset with him in the first place. He runs a free hand through the hair hanging loosely over his forehead, revealing even more of the worry in his expression. Or maybe that’s a look of regret. As it should be. I decide not to reply and flip him off instead. He shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, I tried, and then he goes back inside his apartment and slides his door shut. I put the phone back in my pocket before it gets wet, and I look around at the courtyard of the apartment complex where I’ve lived for two whole months. When we first moved in, the hot Texas summer was swallowing up the last traces of spring, but this courtyard seemed to somehow still cling to life. Vibrant blue and purple hydrangeas lined the walkways leading up to the staircases and the fountain affixed in the center of the courtyard. Now that summer has reached its most unattractive peak, the water in the fountain has long since evaporated. The hydrangeas are a sad, wilted reminder of the excitement I felt when Tori and I first moved in here. Looking at the courtyard now, defeated by the season, is an eerie parallel to how I feel at the moment. Defeated and sad. I’m sitting on the edge of the now empty cement fountain, my elbows propped up on the two suitcases that contain most of my belongings, waiting for a cab to pick me up. I have no idea where it’s going to take me, but I know I’d rather be anywhere except where I am right now. Which is, well, homeless. I could call my parents, but that would give them ammunition to start firing all the We told you so’s at me. We told you not to move so far away, Sydney. We told you not to get serious with that guy. We told you if you had chosen prelaw over music, we would have paid for it. We told you to punch with your thumb on the outside of your fist. Okay, maybe they never taught me the proper punching techniques, but if they’re so right all the damn time, they should have. I clench my fist, then spread out my fingers, then clench it again. My hand is surprisingly sore, and I’m pretty sure I should put ice on it. I feel sorry for guys. Punching sucks. Know what else sucks? Rain. It always finds the most inappropriate time to fall, like right now, while I’m homeless. The cab finally pulls up, and I stand and grab my suitcases. I roll them behind me as the cab driver gets out and pops open the trunk. Before I even hand him the first suitcase, my heart sinks as I suddenly realize that I don’t even have my purse on me. Shit. I look around, back to where I was sitting on the suitcases, then feel around my body as if my purse will magically appear across my shoulder. But I know exactly where my purse is. I pulled it off my shoulder and dropped it to the floor right before I punched Tori in her overpriced, Cameron Diaz nose. I sigh. And I laugh. Of course, I left my purse. My first day of being homeless would have been way too easy if I’d had a purse with me. “I’m sorry,” I say to the cab driver, who is now loading my second piece of luggage. “I changed my mind. I don’t need a cab right now.” I know there’s a hotel about a half-mile from here. If I can just work up the courage to go back inside and get my purse, I’ll walk there and get a room until I figure out what to do. It’s not as if I can get any wetter. The driver takes the suitcases back out of the cab, sets them on the curb in front of me, and walks back to the driver’s side without ever making eye contact. He just gets into his car and drives away, as if my canceling is a relief. Do I look that pathetic? I take my suitcases and walk back to where I was seated before I realized I was purseless. I glance up to my apartment and wonder what would happen if I went back there to get my wallet. I sort of left things in a mess when I walked out the door. I guess I’d rather be homeless in the rain than go back up there. I take a seat on my luggage again and contemplate my situation. I could pay someone to go upstairs for me. But who? No one’s outside, and who’s to say Hunter or Tori would even give the person my purse? This really sucks. I know I’m going to have to end up calling one of my friends, but right now, I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone how clueless I’ve been for the last two years. I’ve been completely blindsided. I already hate being twenty-two, and I still have 364 more days to go. It sucks so bad that I’m . . . crying? Great. I’m crying now. I’m a purseless, crying, violent, homeless girl. And as much as I don’t want to admit it, I think I might also be heartbroken. Yep. Sobbing now. Pretty sure this must be what it feels like to have your heart broken. “It’s raining. Hurry up.” I glance up to see a girl hovering over me. She’s holding an umbrella over her head and looking down at me with agitation while she hops from one foot to the other, waiting for me to do something. “I’m getting soaked. Hurry.” Her voice is a little demanding, as if she’s doing me some sort of favor and I’m being ungrateful. I arch an eyebrow as I look up at her, shielding the rain from my eyes with my hand. I don’t know why she’s complaining about getting wet, when there isn’t much clothing to get wet. She’s wearing next to nothing. I glance at her shirt, which is missing its entire bottom half, and realize she’s in a Hooters outfit. Could this day get any weirder? I’m sitting on almost everything I own in a torrential downpour, being bossed around by a bitchy Hooters waitress. I’m still staring at her shirt when she grabs my hand and pulls me up in a huff. “Ridge said you would do this. I’ve got to get to work. Follow me, and I’ll show you where the apartment is.” She grabs one of my suitcases, pops the handle out, and shoves it at me. She takes the other and walks swiftly out of the courtyard. I follow her, for no other reason than the fact that she’s taken one of my suitcases with her and I want it back. She yells over her shoulder as she begins to ascend the stairwell. “I don’t know how long you plan on staying, but I’ve only got one rule. Stay the hell out of my room.” She reaches an apartment and opens the door, never even looking back to see if I’m following her. Once I reach the top of the stairs, I pause outside the apartment and look down at the fern sitting unaffected by the heat in a planter outside the door. Its leaves are lush and green as if they’re giving summer the middle finger with their refusal to succumb to the heat. I smile at the plant, somewhat proud of it. Then I frown with the realization that I’m envious of the resilience of a plant. I shake my head, look away, then take a hesitant step inside the unfamiliar apartment. The layout is similar to my own apartment, only this one is a double split bedroom with four total bedrooms. My and Tori’s apartment only had two bedrooms, but the living rooms are the same size. The only other noticeable difference is that I don’t see any lying, backstabbing, bloody-nosed whores standing in this one. Nor do I see any of Tori’s dirty dishes or laundry lying around. The girl sets my suitcase down beside the door, then steps aside and waits for me to . . . well, I don’t know what she’s waiting for me to do. She rolls her eyes and grabs my arm, pulling me out of the doorway and further into the apartment. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you even speak?” She begins to close the door behind her but pauses and turns around, wide-eyed. She holds her finger up in the air. “Wait,” she says. “You’re not . . .” She rolls her eyes and smacks herself in the forehead. “Oh, my God, you’re deaf.” Huh? What the hell is wrong with this girl? I shake my head and start to answer her, but she interrupts me. “God, Bridgette,” she mumbles to herself. She rubs her hands down her face and groans, completely ignoring the fact that I’m shaking my head. “You’re such an insensitive bitch sometimes.” Wow. This girl has some serious issues in the people-skills department. She’s sort of a bitch, even though she’s making an effort not to be one. Now that she thinks I’m deaf. I don’t even know how to respond. She shakes her head as if she’s disappointed in herself, then looks straight at me. “I . . . HAVE . . . TO . . . GO . . . TO . . . WORK . . . NOW!” she yells very loudly and painfully slowly. I grimace and step back, which should be a huge clue that I can hear her practically yelling, but she doesn’t notice. She points to a door at the end of the hallway. “RIDGE . . . IS . . . IN . . . HIS . . . ROOM!” Before I have a chance to tell her she can stop yelling, she leaves the apartment and closes the door behind her. I have no idea what to think. Or what to do now. I’m standing, soaking wet, in the middle of an unfamiliar apartment, and the only person besides Hunter and Tori whom I feel like punching is now just a few feet away in another room. And speaking of Ridge, why the hell did he send his psycho Hooters girlfriend to get me? I take out my phone and have begun to text him when his bedroom door opens. He walks out into the hallway with an armful of blankets and a pillow. As soon as he makes eye contact with me, I gasp. I hope it’s not a noticeable gasp. It’s just that I’ve never actually seen him up close before, and he’s even better-looking from just a few feet away than he is from across an apartment courtyard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen eyes that can actually speak. I’m not sure what I mean by that. It just seems as if he could shoot me the tiniest glance with those dark eyes of his, and I’d know exactly what they needed me to do. They’re piercing and intense and—oh, my God, I’m staring. The corner of his mouth tilts up in a knowing smile as he passes me and heads straight for the couch. Despite his appealing and slightly innocent-looking face, I want to yell at him for being so deceitful. He shouldn’t have waited more than two weeks to tell me. I would have had a chance to plan all this out a little better. I don’t understand how we could have had two weeks’ worth of conversations without his feeling the need to tell me that my boyfriend and my best friend were screwing. Ridge throws the blankets and the pillow onto the couch. “I’m not staying here, Ridge,” I say, attempting to stop him from wasting time with his hospitality. I know he feels bad for me, but I hardly know him, and I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a hotel room than sleeping on a strange couch. Then again, hotel rooms require money. Something I don’t have on me at the moment. Something that’s inside my purse, across the courtyard, in an apartment with the only two people in the world I don’t want to see right now. Maybe a couch isn’t such a bad idea after all. He gets the couch made up and turns around, dropping his eyes to my soaking-wet clothes. I look down at the puddle of water I’m creating in the middle of his floor. “Oh, sorry,” I mutter. My hair is matted to my face; my shirt is now a see-through pathetic excuse for a barrier between the outside world and my very pink, very noticeable bra. “Where’s your bathroom?” He nods his head toward the bathroom door. I turn around, unzip a suitcase, and begin to rummage through it while Ridge walks back into his bedroom. I’m glad he doesn’t ask me questions about what happened after our conversation earlier. I’m not in the mood to talk about it. I select a pair of yoga pants and a tank top, then grab my bag of toiletries and head to the bathroom. It disturbs me that everything about this apartment reminds me of my own, with just a few subtle differences. This is the same bathroom with the Jack-and-Jill doors on the left and right, leading to the two bedrooms that adjoin it. One is Ridge’s, obviously. I’m curious about who the other bedroom belongs to but not curious enough to open it. The Hooters girl’s one rule was to stay the hell out of her room, and she doesn’t seem like the type to kid around. I shut the door that leads to the living room and lock it, then check the locks on both doors to the bedrooms to make sure no one can walk in. I have no idea if anyone lives in this apartment other than Ridge and the Hooters girl, but I don’t want to chance it. I pull off my sopping clothes and throw them into the sink to avoid soaking the floor. I turn on the shower and wait until the water gets warm, then step in. I stand under the stream of water and close my eyes, thankful that I’m not still sitting outside in the rain. At the same time, I’m not really happy to be where I am, either. I never expected my twenty-second birthday to end with me showering in a strange apartment and sleeping on a couch that belongs to a guy I’ve barely known for two weeks, all at the hands of the two people I cared about and trusted the most. Chapter One TWO WEEKS EARLIER Sydney I slide open my balcony door and step outside, thankful that the sun has already dipped behind the building next door, cooling the air to what could pass as a perfect fall temperature. Almost on cue, the sound of his guitar floats across the courtyard as I take a seat and lean back into the patio lounger. I tell Tori I come out here to get homework done, because I don’t want to admit that the guitar is the only reason I’m outside every night at eight, like clockwork. For weeks now, the guy in the apartment across the courtyard has sat on his balcony and played for at least an hour. Every night, I sit outside and listen. I’ve noticed a few other neighbors come out to their balconies when he’s playing, but no one is as loyal as I am. I don’t understand how someone could hear these songs and not crave them day after day. Then again, music has always been a passion of mine, so maybe I’m just a little more infatuated with his sound than other people are. I’ve played the piano for as long as I can remember, and although I’ve never shared it with anyone, I love writing music. I even switched my major to music education two years ago. My plan is to be an elementary music teacher, although if my father had his way, I’d still be prelaw. “A life of mediocrity is a waste of a life,” he said when I informed him that I was changing my major. A life of mediocrity. I find that more amusing than insulting, since he seems to be the most dissatisfied person I’ve ever known. And he’s a lawyer. Go figure. One of the familiar songs ends and the guy with the guitar begins to play something he’s never played before. I’ve grown accustomed to his unofficial playlist since he seems to practice the same songs in the same order night after night. However, I’ve never heard him play this particular song before. The way he’s repeating the same chords makes me think he’s creating the song right here on the spot. I like that I’m witnessing this, especially since after only a few chords, it’s already my new favorite. All his songs sound like originals. I wonder if he performs them locally or if he just writes them for fun. I lean forward in the chair, rest my arms on the edge of the balcony, and watch him. His balcony is directly across the courtyard, far enough away that I don’t feel weird when I watch him but close enough that I make sure I’m never watching him when Hunter’s around. I don’t think Hunter would like the fact that I’ve developed a tiny crush on this guy’s talent. I can’t deny it, though. Anyone who watches how passionately this guy plays would crush on his talent. The way he keeps his eyes closed the entire time, focusing intently on every stroke against every guitar string. I like it best when he sits cross-legged with the guitar upright between his legs. He pulls it against his chest and plays it like a stand-up bass, keeping his eyes closed the whole time. It’s so mesmerizing to watch him that sometimes I catch myself holding my breath, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I’m gasping for air. It also doesn’t help that he’s cute. At least, he seems cute from here. His light brown hair is unruly and moves with him, falling across his forehead every time he looks down at his guitar. He’s too far away to distinguish eye color or distinct features, but the details don’t matter when coupled with the passion he has for his music. There’s a confidence to him that I find compelling. I’ve always admired musicians who are able to tune out everyone and everything around them and pour all of their focus into their music. To be able to shut the world off and allow yourself to be completely swept away is something I’ve always wanted the confidence to do, but I just don’t have it. This guy has it. He’s confident and talented. I’ve always been a sucker for musicians, but more in a fantasy way. They’re a different breed. A breed that rarely makes for good boyfriends. He glances at me as if he can hear my thoughts, and then a slow grin appears across his face. He never once pauses the song while he continues to watch me. The eye contact makes me blush, so I drop my arms and pull my notebook back onto my lap and look down at it. I hate that he just caught me staring so hard. Not that I was doing anything wrong; it just feels odd for him to know I was watching him. I glance up again, and he’s still watching me, but he’s not smiling anymore. The way he’s staring causes my heart to speed up, so I look away and focus on my notebook. Way to be a creeper, Sydney. “There’s my girl,” a comforting voice says from behind me. I lean my head back and tilt my eyes upward to watch Hunter as he makes his way onto the balcony. I try to hide the fact that I’m shocked to see him, because I’m pretty sure I was supposed to remember he was coming. On the off chance that Guitar Boy is still watching, I make it a point to seem really into Hunter’s hello kiss so that maybe I’ll seem less like a creepy stalker and more like someone just casually relaxing on her balcony. I run my hand up Hunter’s neck as he leans over the back of my chair and kisses me upside down. “Scoot up,” Hunter says, pushing on my shoulders. I do what he asks and slide forward in the seat as he lifts his leg over the chair and slips in behind me. He pulls my back against his chest and wraps his arms around me. My eyes betray me when the sound of the guitar stops abruptly, and I glance across the courtyard once more. Guitar Boy is eyeing us hard as he stands, then goes back inside his apartment. His expression is odd. Almost angry. “How was school?” Hunter asks. “Too boring to talk about. What about you? How was work?” “Interesting,” he says, brushing my hair away from my neck with his hand. He presses his lips to my neck and kisses his way down my collarbone. “What was so interesting?” He tightens his hold on me, then rests his chin on my shoulder and pulls me back in the chair with him. “The oddest thing happened at lunch,” he says. “I was with one of the guys at this Italian restaurant. We were eating out on the patio, and I had just asked the waiter what he recommended for dessert, when a police car rounded the corner. They stopped right in front of the restaurant, and two officers jumped out with their guns drawn. They began barking orders toward us when our waiter mumbled, ‘Shit.’ He slowly raised his hands, and the police jumped the barrier to the patio, rushed toward him, threw him to the ground, and cuffed him right at our feet. After they read him his rights, they pulled him to his feet and escorted him toward the cop car. The waiter glanced back at me and yelled, ‘The tiramisu is really good!’ Then they put him in the car and drove away.” I tilt my head back and look up at him. “Seriously? That really happened?” He nods, laughing. “I swear, Syd. It was crazy.” “Well? Did you try the tiramisu?” “Hell, yeah, we did. It was the best tiramisu I’ve ever had.” He kisses me on the cheek and pushes me forward. “Speaking of food, I’m starving.” He stands up and holds out his hand to me. “Did you cook tonight?” I take his hand and let him pull me up. “We just had salad, but I can make you one.” Once we’re inside, Hunter takes a seat on the couch next to Tori. She’s got a textbook spread open across her lap as she halfheartedly focuses on both homework and TV at the same time. I take out the containers from the fridge and make his salad. I feel a little guilty that I forgot tonight was one of the nights he said he was coming. I usually have something cooked when I know he’ll be here. We’ve been dating for almost two years now. I met him during my sophomore year in college, when he was a senior. He and Tori had been friends for years. After she moved into my dorm and we became friends, she insisted I meet him. She said we’d hit it off, and she was right. We made it official after only two dates, and things have been wonderful since. Of course, we have our ups and downs, especially since he moved more than an hour away. When he landed the job in the accounting firm last semester, he suggested I move with him. I told him no, that I really wanted to finish my undergrad before taking such a huge step. In all honesty, I’m just scared. The thought of moving in with him seems so final, as if I would be sealing my fate. I know that once we take that step, the next step is marriage, and then I’d be looking at never having the chance to live alone. I’ve always had a roommate, and until I can afford my own place, I’ll be sharing an apartment with Tori. I haven’t told Hunter yet, but I really want to live alone for a year. It’s something I promised myself I would do before I got married. I don’t even turn twenty-two for a couple of weeks, so it’s not as if I’m in any hurry. I take Hunter’s food to him in the living room. “Why do you watch this?” he says to Tori. “All these women do is talk shit about each other and flip tables.” “That’s exactly why I watch it,” Tori says, without taking her eyes off the TV. Hunter winks at me and takes his food, then props his feet up on the coffee table. “Thanks, babe.” He turns toward the TV and begins eating. “Can you grab me a beer?” I nod and walk back into the kitchen. I open the refrigerator door and look on the shelf where he always keeps his extra beer. I realize as I’m staring at “his” shelf that this is probably how it begins. First, he has a shelf in the refrigerator. Then he’ll have a toothbrush in the bathroom, a drawer in my dresser, and eventually, his stuff will infiltrate mine in so many ways it’ll be impossible for me ever to be on my own. I run my hands up my arms, rubbing away the sudden onset of discomfort washing over me. I feel as if I’m watching my future play out in front of me. I’m not so sure I like what I’m imagining. Am I ready for this? Am I ready for this guy to be the guy I bring dinner to every night when he gets home from work? Am I ready to fall into this comfortable life with him? One where I teach all day and he does people’s taxes, and then we come home and I cook dinner and I “grab him beers” while he props his feet up and calls me babe, and then we go to our bed and make love at approximately nine P.M. so we won’t be tired the next day, in order to wake up and get dressed and go to work and do it all over again? “Earth to Sydney,” Hunter says. I hear him snap his fingers twice. “Beer? Please, babe?” I quickly grab his beer, give it to him, then head straight to my bathroom. I turn the water on in the shower, but I don’t get in. Instead, I lock the door and sink to the floor. We have a good relationship. He’s good to me, and I know he loves me. I just don’t understand why every time I think about a future with him, it’s not an exciting thought. Ridge Maggie leans forward and kisses my forehead. “I need to go.” I’m on my back with my head and shoulders partially propped against my headboard. She’s straddling my lap and looking down at me regretfully. I hate that we live so far apart now, but it makes the time we do spend together a lot more meaningful. I take her hands so she’ll shut up, and I pull her to me, hoping to persuade her not to leave just yet. She laughs and shakes her head. She kisses me, but only briefly, and then she pulls away again. She slides off my lap, but I don’t let her make it very far before I lunge forward and pin her to the mattress. I point to her chest. “You”—I lean in and kiss the tip of her nose—“need to stay one more night.” “I can’t. I have class.” I grab her wrists and pin her arms above her head, then press my lips to hers. I know she won’t stay another night. She’s never missed a day of class in her life, unless she was too sick to move. I sort of wish she was feeling a little sick right now, so I could make her stay in bed with me. I slide my hands from her wrists, delicately up her arms until I’m cupping her face. Then I give her one final kiss before I reluctantly pull away from her. “Go. And be careful. Let me know when you make it home.” She nods and pushes herself off the bed. She reaches across me and grabs her shirt, then pulls it on over her head. I watch her as she walks around the room and gathers the clothes I pulled off her in a hurry. After five years of dating, most couples would have moved in together by now. However, most peoples’ other halves aren’t Maggie. She’s so fiercely independent it’s almost intimidating. But it’s understandable, considering how her life has gone. She’s been caring for her grandfather since I met her. Before that, she spent the majority of her teenage years helping him care for her grandmother, who died when Maggie was sixteen. Now that her grandfather is in a nursing home, she finally has a chance to live alone while finishing school, and as much as I want her here with me, I also know how important this internship is for her. So for the next year, I’ll suck it up while she’s in San Antonio and I’m here in Austin. I’ll be damned if I ever move out of Austin, especially for San Antonio. Unless she asked, of course. “Tell your brother I said good luck.” She’s standing in my bedroom doorway, poised to leave. “And you need to quit beating yourself up, Ridge. Musicians have blocks, just like writers do. You’ll find your muse again. I love you.” “I love you, too.” She smiles and backs out of my bedroom. I groan, knowing she’s trying to be positive with the whole writer’s block thing, but I can’t stop stressing about it. I don’t know if it’s because Brennan has so much riding on these songs now or if it’s because I’m completely tapped out, but the words just aren’t coming. Without lyrics I’m confident in, it’s hard to feel good about the actual musical aspect of writing. My phone vibrates. It’s a text from Brennan, which only makes me feel worse about the fact that I’m stuck. Brennan: It’s been weeks. Please tell me you have something. Me: Working on it. How’s the tour? Brennan: Good, but remind me not to allow Warren to schedule this many gigs on the next leg. Me: Gigs are what gets your name out there. Brennan: OUR name. I’m not telling you again to stop acting like you aren’t half of this. Me: I won’t be half if I can’t work through this damn block. Brennan: Maybe you should get out more. Cause some unnecessary drama in your life. Break up with Maggie for the sake of art. She’ll understand. Heartache helps with lyrical inspiration. Don’t you ever listen to country? Me: Good idea. I’ll tell Maggie you suggested that. Brennan: Nothing I say or do could ever make Maggie hate me. Give her a kiss for me, and get to writing. Our careers are resting squarely on your shoulders. Me: Asshole. Brennan: Ah! Is that anger I detect in your text? Use it. Go write an angry song about how much you hate your little brother, then send it to me. ;) Me: Yeah. I’ll give it to you after you finally get your shit out of your old bedroom. Bridgette’s sister might move in next month. Brennan: Have you ever met Brandi? Me: No. Do I want to? Brennan: Only if you want to live with two Bridgettes. Me: Oh, shit. Brennan: Exactly. TTYL. I close out the text to Brennan and open up a text to Warren. Me: We’re good to go on the roommate search. Brennan says hell no to Brandi. I’ll let you break the news to Bridgette, since you two get along so well. Warren: Well, motherfucker. I laugh and hop off the bed, then head to the patio with my guitar. It’s almost eight, and I know she’ll be on her balcony. I don’t know how weird my actions are about to seem to her, but all I can do is try. I’ve got nothing to lose. Chapter Two Sydney I’m mindlessly tapping my feet and singing along to his music with my made-up lyrics when he stops playing mid-song. He never stops mid-song, so naturally, I glance in his direction. He’s leaning forward, staring right at me. He holds up his index finger, as if to say, Hold on, and he sets his guitar beside him and runs into his apartment. What the hell is he doing? And oh, my God, why does the fact that he’s acknowledging me make me so nervous? He comes back outside with paper and a marker in his hands. He’s writing. What the hell is he writing? He holds up two sheets of paper, and I squint to get a good look at what he’s written. A phone number. Shit. His phone number? When I don’t move for several seconds, he shakes the papers and points at them, then points back to me. He’s insane. I’m not calling him. I can’t call him. I can’t do that to Hunter. The guy shakes his head, then grabs a fresh sheet of paper and writes something else on it, then holds it up. Text me. When I still don’t move, he flips the paper over and writes again. I have a ? A question. A text. Seems harmless enough. When he holds up the papers with his phone number again, I pull out my phone and enter his phone number. I stare at the screen for a few seconds, not really knowing what to say in the text, so I go with: Me: What’s your question? He looks down at his phone, and I can see him smile when he receives my text. He drops the paper and leans back in his chair, typing. When my phone vibrates, I hesitate a second before looking down at it. Him: Do you sing in the shower? I shake my head, confirming my initial suspicion. He’s a flirt. Of course he is, he’s a musician. Me: I don’t know what kind of question that is, but if this is your attempt at flirting, I’ve got a boyfriend. Don’t waste your time. I hit send and watch him read the text. He laughs, and this irritates me. Mostly because his smile is so . . . smiley. Is that even a word? I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s as if his whole face smiles right along with his mouth. I wonder what that smile looks like up close. Him: Believe me, I know you have a boyfriend, and this is definitely not how I flirt. I just want to know if you sing in the shower. I happen to think highly of people who sing in the shower and need to know the answer to that question in order to decide if I want to ask you my next question. I read the lengthy text, admiring his fast typing. Guys aren’t normally as skilled as girls when it comes to speed-texting, but his replies are almost instantaneous. Me: Yes, I sing in the shower. Do you sing in the shower? Him: No, I don’t. Me: How can you think highly of people who sing in the shower if you don’t sing in the shower? Him: Maybe the fact that I don’t sing in the shower is why I think highly of people who do sing in the shower. This conversation isn’t going anywhere. Me: Why did you need this vital piece of information from me? He stretches his legs out and props his feet up on the edge of the patio, then stares at me for a few seconds before returning his attention to his phone. Him: I want to know how you’re singing lyrics to my songs when I haven’t even added lyrics to them yet. My cheeks instantly heat from embarrassment. Busted. I stare at his text, then glance up at him. He’s watching me, expressionless. Why the hell didn’t I think that he could see me sitting out here? I never thought he would notice me singing along to his music. Hell, until last night, I never thought he even noticed me. I inhale, wishing I’d never made eye contact with him to begin with. I don’t know why I find this embarrassing, but I do. It seems as if I’ve invaded his privacy in some way, and I hate that. Me: I tend to favor songs with lyrics, and I was tired of wondering what the lyrics to your songs were, so I guess I made up a few of my own. He reads the text, then glances up at me without a hint of his infectious smile. I don’t like his serious glances. I don’t like what they do to my stomach. I also don’t like what his smiley smile does to my stomach. I wish he would stick to a simple, unattractive, emotionless expression, but I’m not sure he’s capable of that. Him: Will you send them to me? Oh, God. Hell, no. Me: Hell, no. Him: Please? Me: No. Him: Pretty please? Me: No, thank you. Him: What’s your name? Me: Sydney. Yours? Him: Ridge. Ridge. That fits him. Musical-artisty-moody type. Me: Well, Ridge, I’m sorry, but I don’t write lyrics that anyone would want to hear. Do you not write lyrics to your own songs? He begins to text, and it’s a really long text. His fingers move swiftly over his phone while he types. I’m afraid I’m about to receive an entire novel from him. He looks up at me just as my phone vibrates. Ridge: I guess you could say I’m having a bad case of writer’s block. Which is why I really, really wish you would just send me the lyrics you sing while I’m playing. Even if you think they’re stupid, I want to read them. You somehow know every single song I play, even though I’ve never played them for anyone except when I practice out here. How does he know I know all his songs? I bring a hand up to my cheek when I feel it flush, knowing he’s been watching me a lot longer than I initially thought. I swear, I have to be the most unintuitive person in this entire world. I glance up at him and he’s continuing with another text, so I look back to my phone and wait for it. Ridge: I can see it in the way your whole body responds to the guitar. You tap your feet, you move your head. And I’ve even tried to test you by slowing down the song every once in a while to see if you would notice, and you always do. Your body stops responding when I change something up. So just by watching you, I can tell you have an ear for music. And since you sing in the shower, it probably means you’re an okay singer. Which also means that maybe there’s a chance you have a talent for writing lyrics. So, Sydney, I want to know what your lyrics are. I’m still reading when another text comes through. Ridge: Please. I’m desperate. I inhale a deep breath, wishing more than anything that this conversation had never started. I don’t know how in the hell he can come to all these conclusions without my ever having noticed him watching me. In a way, it eases my embarrassment over the fact that he saw me watching him. But now that he wants to know what lyrics I made up, I’m embarrassed for an entirely different reason. I do sing, but not well enough to do anything with it professionally. My passion is mostly for music itself, not at all for performing it. And as much as I do love writing lyrics, I’ve never shared anything I’ve written. It seems too intimate. I’d almost rather he had sent me a vulgar, flirtatious come-on. I jump when my phone vibrates again. Ridge: Okay, we’ll make a deal. Pick one song of mine, and send me the lyrics to just that one song. Then I’ll leave you alone. Especially if they’re stupid. I laugh. And cringe. He’s not going to let up. I’m going to have to change my number. Ridge: I know your phone number now, Sydney. I’m not giving up until you send me lyrics to at least one song. Jesus. He’s not going away. Ridge: And I also know where you live. I’m not above begging on my knees at your front door. Ugh! Me: Fine. Stop with the creepy threats. One song. But I’ll have to write the lyrics down while you play it first, because I’ve never written them out before. Ridge: Deal. Which song? I’ll play it right now. Me: How would I tell you which song, Ridge? I don’t know the names of any of them. Ridge: Yeah, me, neither. Hold up your hand when I get to the one you want me to play. He puts down his phone and picks up his guitar, then begins playing one of the songs. It’s not the one I want him to play, though, so I shake my head. He switches to another song, and I continue to shake my head until the familiar chords to one of my favorites meets my ears. I hold up my hand, and he grins, then starts the song over from the beginning. I pull my notebook in front of me and pick up my pen, then begin to write down the lyrics I’ve put to it. He has to play the song three times before I finally get them all out. It’s almost dark now, and it’s hard to see, so I pick up my phone. Me: It’s too dark to read. I’ll go inside and text them to you, but you have to promise you’ll never ask me to do this again. The light from his phone illuminates his smile, and he nods at me, then picks up his guitar and walks back inside his apartment. I go to my room and sit on the bed, wondering if it’s too late to change my mind. I feel as if this whole conversation just ruined my eight o’clock patio time. I can’t go back outside and listen to him ever again. I liked it better when I thought he didn’t know I was there. It was like my own personal space with my own personal concert. Now I’ll be way too aware of him to actually enjoy listening, and I curse him for ruining that. I regretfully text him my lyrics, then turn my phone on silent and leave it on my bed as I go into the living room and try to forget this ever happened. Ridge Holy shit. She’s good. Really good. Brennan is going to love this. I know if he agrees to use them, we’ll need her to sign a release, and we’ll have to pay her something. But it’s worth it, especially if the rest of her lyrics are as good as these. But the question is, will she be willing to help out? She obviously doesn’t have much confidence in her talent, but that’s the least of my worries. The biggest worry is how I’ll persuade her to send me more lyrics. Or how to get her to write with me. I doubt her boyfriend would go for that. He has to be the biggest jerk I’ve ever laid eyes on. I can’t believe the balls of that guy, especially after watching him last night. He comes outside on the patio and kisses Sydney, cuddling up to her in the chair like the most attentive boyfriend in the world. Then, the second she turns her back, he’s out on the patio with the other chick. Sydney must have been in the shower, because the two of them rushed outside as if they were on a timer, and the chick had her legs wrapped around his waist and her mouth on his faster than I could even blink. And it wasn’t a first-time occurrence. I’ve seen it happen so many times I’ve lost count. It’s really not my place to inform Sydney that the guy she’s dating is screwing her roommate. I especially can’t tell her through a text. But if Maggie were cheating on me, I’d sure as hell want to know about it. I just don’t know Sydney well enough to tell her something like that. Usually, the person to break the news is the one to catch all the blame, anyway. Especially if the person being cheated on doesn’t want to believe it. I could send her an anonymous note, but the douchebag boyfriend would more than likely be able to talk his way out of it. I won’t do anything for now. It’s not my place, and until I get to know her better, I’m not in a position for her to trust me. My phone vibrates in my pocket, and I pull it out, hoping Sydney decided to send me more lyrics, but the text is from Maggie. Maggie: Almost home. See you in two weeks. Me: I didn’t say text me when you’re almost home. I said text me when you’re home. Now, stop texting and driving. Maggie: Okay. Me: Stop! Maggie: Okay! I toss the phone onto the bed and refuse to text her back. I’m not giving her a reason to text me again until she makes it home. I walk to the kitchen for a beer, then take a seat next to a passed-out Warren on the couch. I grab the remote and hit info to see what he’s watching. Porn. Figures. The guy can’t watch anything without nudity. I start to change the channel, but he snatches the remote out of my hands. “It’s my night.” I don’t know if it was Warren or Bridgette who decided we should divvy up the TV, but it was the worst idea ever. Especially since I’m still not sure which night is actually mine, even though, technically, this is my apartment. I’m lucky if either of them pays rent on a quarterly basis. I put up with it because Warren has been my best friend since high school, and Bridgette is . . . well, she’s too mean for me to even want to strike up a conversation with her. I’ve avoided that since Brennan let her move in six months ago. I really don’t have to worry about money right now, thanks to my job and the cut Brennan gives me, so I just leave it alone. I still don’t know how Brennan met Bridgette or how they’re involved, but even though their relationship isn’t sexual, he obviously cares about her. I have no idea how or why, since she doesn’t have any noticeable redeeming qualities other than how she looks in her Hooters uniform. And of course, the second that thought passes through my head, so do the words Maggie said when she found out Bridgette was moving in with us. “I don’t care if she moves in. The worst thing that could happen would be for you to cheat on me. Then I’d have to break up with you, then your heart would shatter, and we’d both be miserable for life, and you would be so depressed you’d never be able to get it up again. So make sure if you do cheat, it’s the best sex you ever have, because it’ll also be the last sex you ever have.” She doesn’t have to worry about my cheating on her, but the scenario she painted was enough to ensure that I don’t even look at Bridgette in her uniform. How in the hell did my thoughts wander this far? This is why I’m having writer’s block; I can’t seem to focus on anything important lately. I go back to my room to transfer the lyrics Sydney sent onto paper, and I begin to work out how to add them to the music. I want to text Sydney to tell her what I think about them, but I don’t. I should leave her hanging a little while longer. I know how nerve-racking it is to send someone a piece of yourself and then have to sit back and wait for it to be judged. If I make her wait long enough, maybe once I tell her how brilliant she is, she’ll have developed a craving to send me more. It might be a little cruel, but she has no idea how much I need her. Now that I’m pretty sure I’ve found my muse, I have to work it just right so she doesn’t slip away. Chapter Three Sydney If he hated them, the least he could have done was send a thank you. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. Especially because I never wanted to send them to him in the first place. I wasn’t expecting him to praise me, but the fact that he begged so hard for them and then just ignored them sort of irritates me. And he hasn’t been outside at his usual time in almost a week. I’ve wanted to text him about it so many times, but if I do, then it’ll seem as if I care what he thinks of the lyrics. I don’t want to care. But I can tell by how disappointed I feel that I do care. I hate that I want him to like my lyrics. But the thought of actually having a hand in a song is a little bit exciting. “Food should be here in a little while. I’m going to get the clothes out of the dryer,” Tori says. She opens the front door, and I perk up on the couch when I hear the familiar sound of the guitar from outside. She closes the door behind her, and as much as I want to ignore it, I rush to my room and quietly slide out onto the balcony, books in hand. If I sink far enough into my chair, he might not notice I’m out here. But he’s looking straight at my balcony when I step outside. He doesn’t acknowledge me with a smile or even a nod of his head when I take my seat. He just continues playing, and it makes me curious to see if he’s just going to pretend our conversation last week never happened. I sort of hope so, because I’d like to pretend it never happened. He plays the familiar songs, and it doesn’t take me long to let go of my embarrassment over the fact that he thought my lyrics were stupid. I tried to warn him. I finish up my homework while he’s still playing, close my books and lean back, and close my eyes. It’s quiet for a minute, and then he begins playing the song I sent him lyrics for. In the middle of the song, the guitar pauses for several seconds, but I refuse to open my eyes. He continues playing just as my phone vibrates with an incoming text. Ridge: You’re not singing. I glance at him, and he’s staring at me with a grin. He looks back down at his guitar and watches his hands as he finishes the song. Then he picks up his phone and sends another text. Ridge: Do you want to know what I thought of the lyrics? Me: No, I’m pretty positive I know what you thought. It’s been a week since I sent them to you. No worries. I told you they were stupid. Ridge: Yeah, sorry about the silence. I had to leave town for a few days. Family emergency. I don’t know if he’s telling the truth, but the fact that he claims he’s been out of town eases my fear that he hasn’t been out on his balcony because of me. Me: Everything okay? Ridge: Yep. Me: Good. Ridge: I’m only going to say this once, Sydney. Are you ready? Me: Oh, God. No. I’m turning off my phone. Ridge: I know where you live. Me: Fine. Ridge: You’re incredible. Those lyrics. I can’t even describe to you how perfect they are for the song. How in the hell does that come out of you? And why can’t you see that you need to LET it come out of you? Don’t hold it in. You’re doing the world a huge disservice with your modesty. I know I agreed not to ask you for more, but that was because I really didn’t expect to get what I got from you. I need more. Give me, give me, give me. I let out a huge breath. Until this moment, I didn’t realize exactly how much his opinion mattered. I can’t look up at him yet. I continue to stare at my phone for much longer than it takes me to read the text. I don’t even text him back, because I’m still relishing the compliment. If he said he loved it, I would have accepted his opinion with relief, and I would have moved on. But the words he just texted were like stairs stacked one on top of the other, and each compliment was like me running up each step until I reached the top of the damn world. Holy crap. I think this one text just gave me enough confidence to send him another song. I never would have predicted this. I never imagined I would be excited. “Food’s here,” Tori says. “You want to eat out here?” I tear my gaze away from the phone and look at her. “Uh. Yeah. Sure.” Tori brings the food out to the balcony. “I’ve never really looked at that guy before, but damn,” she says, staring hard at Ridge while he plays his guitar. “He’s really hot, and I don’t even like blonds.” “His hair isn’t blond. It’s brown.” “No, that’s blond,” she says. “But it’s dark blond, so that’s okay, I guess. Almost brown, maybe. I like the messy shag, and that body makes up for the fact that his hair isn’t black.” Tori takes a drink and leans back in her chair, still staring at him. “Maybe I’m being too picky. What do I care what color his hair is? It’ll be dark when I have my hands in it, anyway.” I shake my head. “He’s really talented,” I say. I still haven’t responded to his text, but he doesn’t seem to be waiting around. He’s watching his hands as he plays, not paying a bit of attention to us. “I wonder if he’s single,” Tori says. “I’d like to see what other talents he has.” I have no idea if he’s single, but the way Tori is thinking about him makes my stomach turn. Tori is incredibly cute, and I know she could find out if he had other talents if she really wanted to. She tends to get whomever she wants in the guy department. I’ve never really minded until now. “You don’t want to be involved with a musician,” I say, as if I have any experience that would qualify me to give her advice. “Besides, I’m pretty sure Ridge does have a girlfriend. I saw a girl on his patio with him a few weeks ago.” That’s technically not a lie. I did see one once. Tori glances at me. “You know his name? How do you know his name?” I shrug as if it’s no big deal. Because, honestly, it is no big deal. “He needed help with lyrics last week, so I texted him some.” She sits up in her chair. “You know his phone number?” I suddenly become defensive, not liking the accusatory tone in her voice. “Calm down, Tori. I don’t even know him. All I did was text him a few lyrics.” She laughs. “I’m not judging, Syd,” she says, holding up her hands in defense. “I don’t care how much you love Hunter, if you have an opening with that”—she flicks her hand in Ridge’s direction—“I’d be livid if you didn’t take advantage of it.” I roll my eyes. “You know I’d never do that to Hunter.” She sighs and leans back in her chair. “Yeah. I know.” We’re both looking at Ridge when he finishes the song. He picks up his phone and types something, then picks up his guitar just as my phone vibrates and he begins to play another song. Tori reaches for my phone, but I grab it first and hold it out of her reach. “That’s from him, isn’t it?” she says. I read the text. Ridge: When Barbie goes away, I want more. I cringe, because there’s no way I’m letting Tori read this text. For one thing, he insulted her. Also, the second part of his text would have an entirely different meaning if she read it. I hit delete and press the power button down to lock my phone in case she snatches it away from me. “You’re flirting,” she says teasingly. She picks up her empty plate and stands up. “Have fun with your sexting.” Ugh. I hate that she thinks I’d ever do that to Hunter. I’ll worry about setting her straight later, though. In the meantime, I take out my notebook and find the page with the lyrics I wrote to the song he’s currently playing. I transfer them to a text, hit send, and hurry back inside. “That was so good,” I say as I place my plate in the sink. “That’s probably my favorite Italian restaurant in all of Austin.” I walk to the couch and fall down next to Tori, trying to appear casual about the fact that she thinks I’m cheating on Hunter. The more defensive I get about it, the less likely she’ll be to believe me when I try to deny it. “Oh, my God, that reminds me,” she says. “The funniest thing happened a couple of weeks ago at this Italian restaurant. I was eating lunch with . . . my mom, and we were out on the patio. Our waiter was telling us about dessert, when all of a sudden, this cop car comes screeching around the corner, sirens blaring . . .” I’m holding my breath, scared to hear the rest of her story. What the hell? Hunter said he was with a coworker. The odds of them both being at the same restaurant, without being there together, is way more than coincidental. But why would they lie about being together? My heart is folding in on itself. I think I’m gonna be sick. How could they . . . “Syd? Are you okay?” Tori is looking at me with genuine concern. “You look like you’re about to be sick.” I put my hand over my mouth, because I’m afraid she might be right. I can’t answer her right away. I can’t even work up the strength to look at her. I try to still my hand, but I can feel it trembling against my mouth. Why would they be together and not tell me? They’re never together without me. They’d have no reason to be together unless they were planning something. Planning something. Oh. Wait a second. I press my palm against my forehead and shake my head back and forth. I feel as if I’m in the midst of the stupidest moment in all of my nearly twenty-two years of existence. Of course they were together. Of course they’re hiding something. It’s my birthday next Saturday. Not only do I feel incredibly stupid for having believed they would do something like that to me, but I feel unforgivably guilty. “You okay?” Tori says. I nod. “Yeah.” I decide not to mention the fact that I know she was with Hunter. I would feel even worse if I ruined their surprise. “I think the Italian food is just making me a little nauseated. I’ll be right back.” I stand and walk to my bedroom, then sit on the edge of my bed in order to regain my bearings. I’m filled with a mixture of doubt and guilt. Doubt, because I know neither of them would do what I briefly thought they had done. Guilt, because for a brief moment, I actually believed they were capable of it. Ridge I was hoping the first set of lyrics wasn’t a fluke, but after seeing the second set she sent me and adding them to the music, I text Brennan. I can’t not tell him about her any longer. Me: I’m about to send you two songs. I don’t even need you to tell me what you think of them, because I know you’ll love them. So let’s move past that, because I need you to solve a dilemma for me. Brennan: Oh, shit. I was just kidding about the Maggie thing. You didn’t really dump her for inspiration did you? Me: I’m being serious. I found a girl who I’m positive was brought to this earth specifically for us. Brennan: Sorry, man. I’m not into that shit. I mean, maybe if you weren’t my brother, but still. Me: Stop with the horseshit, Brennan. Her lyrics. They’re perfect. And they come so effortlessly to her. I think we need her. I haven’t been able to write songs like these since . . . well, ever. Her lyrics are perfect, and you need to take a look at them, because I sort of need you to love them and agree to buy them from her. Brennan: What the hell, Ridge? We can’t hire someone to write lyrics for us. She’ll want a percentage of the royalties, and between the two of us and the guys in the band, it won’t be worth it. Me: I’m going to ignore that until you check the e-mail I just sent you. I put my phone down and pace the room, giving him time to take a look at what I just sent him. My heart is pounding, and I’m sweating, even though it’s not at all hot in this room. I just can’t take his telling me no, because I’m scared that if we can’t use her, I’ll be facing another six months of a concrete wall. After several minutes, my phone vibrates. I drop to my bed and pick it up. Brennan: Okay. See what she’s willing to take, and let me know. I smile and toss the phone into the air and feel like yelling. After I calm down enough to text her, I pick up my phone and think. I don’t want to freak her out, because I know she’s completely new to this kind of thing. Me: I was wondering if we could talk sometime soon? I have a proposition for you. And get your mind out of the gutter, it’s completely music-related. Sydney: Okay. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, because it makes me nervous. You want me to call you when I get off work? Me: You work? Sydney: Yes. Campus library. Morning shift mostly, except for this weekend. Me: Oh. I guess that’s why I never noticed. I don’t usually get out of bed until after lunch. Sydney: So do you want me to call you after I get home? Me: Just text me. You think we can meet up sometime this weekend? Sydney: Probably, but I’d have to talk to my boyfriend. Don’t want him to find out and think you’re using me for more than my lyrics. Me: K. Sounds good. Sydney: If you want, you could come to my birthday party tomorrow night. Might be easier, because he’ll be here. Me: It’s your birthday tomorrow? Happy early birthday. And that sounds good. What time? Sydney: Not sure. I’m not supposed to know about it. I’ll just text you tomorrow night once I find out more. Me: K. Honestly, I don’t like the fact that her boyfriend might be there. I want to talk to her about it alone, because I still haven’t decided what to do about what I know is going on between that asshole and her roommate. But I need her to agree to help me before her heart gets shattered, so maybe my silence has been a little selfish. I do admire the fact that she wants to be honest with him, even though he doesn’t deserve it. Which makes me think maybe this is something I should bring up to Maggie, even though it never occurred to me before that it might even remotely be an issue. Me: Hey. How’s my girl? Maggie: Busy. This thesis is kicking my ass. How’s my guy? Me: Good. Really good. I think Brennan and I found someone who’s willing to write lyrics with us. She’s really good, and I’ve already finished almost two songs since you left last weekend. Maggie: Ridge, that’s great! I can’t wait to read them. Maybe next weekend? Me: You coming here, or am I going to you? Maggie: I’ll come there. I need to spend some time at the nursing home. Love you. Me: Love you. Don’t forget our video chat tonight. Maggie: You know I won’t. Already have my outfit picked out. Me: That better be a cruel joke. You know I don’t care to see clothes. Maggie: ;) Eight more hours. I’m hungry. I toss the phone aside. I pull open my bedroom door and take a step back when the shit that’s been piled up on the other side begins to fall in on me. First it’s the lamp, then the end table it was resting on, then the end table the lamp and the other end table were piled on top of. Dammit, Warren. These pranks are starting to get out of hand. I press my arm into the couch that’s been shoved up against my bedroom door. I push it back out into the living room and jump over it, then head toward the kitchen. • • • I carefully spoon toothpaste onto an Oreo, then replace the top of the cookie and gently squeeze it. I put it back into the package with the rest of Warren’s Oreos and seal the package shut, just as my phone vibrates. Sydney: Can you do me a favor? She has no idea how many favors I’d do for her right now. I’m pretty much at her mercy. Me: What’s up? Sydney: Can you look out your balcony door and tell me if you see anything suspicious going on at my apartment? Shit. Does she know? What does she want me to tell her? I know it’s selfish, but I really don’t want to tell her about her boyfriend until after I have the chance to talk to her about the lyrics. Me: Okay. Hold on. I walk to my balcony and glance across the courtyard. I don’t see anything out of the ordinary. It’s almost dark, though, so I can’t see much. I’m not sure what she wants me to find, so I choose not to be too descriptive when I respond. Me: Looks quiet. Sydney: Really? Are the blinds open? You don’t see people? I look again. The blinds are open, but the only thing I can see from here is the glare from the TV. Me: Doesn’t look like anyone’s home. Aren’t you having a birthday party later tonight? Sydney: I thought so. I’m really confused. There’s movement in one of the windows, and I see her roommate going into the living room. Sydney’s boyfriend follows closely behind her, and they both sit on the couch, but all I can see is their feet. Me: Wait. Your boyfriend and your roommate just sat on the couch. Sydney: Okay. Sorry to bother you. Me: Wait. What about tonight? Are you still having a birthday party? Sydney: I don’t know. Hunter says he’s taking me out to eat as soon as I get home from work, but I sort of thought it was a lie. I know he and Tori had lunch together a couple of weeks ago, but they don’t know I know. They were obviously planning something, and I assumed it was a surprise party, but tonight’s the only night that could happen. I wince. She actually caught them in a lie, and she thought they were together because they were planning something nice for her. Christ. I don’t even know the guy, and I have a huge urge to walk over there and beat the shit out of him. It’s her birthday. I can’t tell her on her birthday. I take a deep breath, then decide to text Maggie for advice. Me: Question. You busy? Maggie: Nope. Shoot. Me: If it was your birthday and someone you knew found out I was cheating on you, would you want to know right then? Or would you hope that person would wait to tell you until it was no longer your birthday? Maggie: If this is a hypothetical question, I’m going to kill you for this heart attack. If it’s not hypothetical, I’m going to kill you for this heart attack. Me: You know it’s not me. It’s not your birthday. ;) Maggie: Who’s cheating on whom? Me: It’s Sydney’s birthday today. The girl I was telling you about who writes the lyrics. I happen to know her boyfriend is cheating on her, and I’m kind of in a position where I should tell her because she’s becoming suspicious. Maggie: Jesus. I’d hate to be you right now. But if she’s suspicious and you know for a fact that he’s cheating, you need to tell her, Ridge. If you don’t say anything, you’re inadvertently lying. Me: Ugh! That’s what I thought you’d say. Maggie: Good luck. I’m still going to kill you for the heart attack next weekend. I sit on the bed, then start a text to Sydney. Me: I’m not sure how to say this, Sydney. You’re not driving right now, are you? Sydney: Oh, jeez. There are people there, aren’t there? Lots of them? Me: No, there isn’t anyone there but the two of them. First, I need to apologize for not telling you this sooner. I didn’t know how, because we don’t know each other that well. Second, I’m sorry for doing it on your birthday, of all days, but I feel like an ass for even waiting this long. And third, I’m sorry you have to find out via text, but I don’t want you to have to walk back into your apartment without knowing the truth first. Sydney: You’re scaring me, Ridge. Me: I’m just going to rip the Band-Aid off, okay? Something has been going on between your roommate and your boyfriend for a while. I hit send and close my eyes, knowing I’m completely ruining her birthday. If not pretty much every day after today, too. Sydney: Ridge, they’ve been friends for longer than I’ve even known Hunter. I think you’ve misinterpreted everything. Me: If sticking your tongue down someone’s throat while straddling him is friendship, then I’m sorry. But I’m positive I’m not misinterpreting anything. It’s been going on for weeks. I’m assuming they come out to the patio while you’re in the shower, because they’re never out there long. But it happens a lot. Sydney: If you’re being honest, why didn’t you tell me when we first started talking? Me: How does one comfortably say this to another person, Sydney? When is there ever an appropriate time? I’m telling you now because you’re becoming suspicious, and it’s as appropriate a time as it can be. Sydney: Please tell me you have a warped sense of humor, because you have no idea what you’re doing to my heart right now. Me: I’m sorry, Sydney. Really. I wait patiently for a response. She doesn’t text me back. I contemplate texting her, but I know she needs time to absorb this. Dammit, I’m such an asshole. Now she’ll probably be pissed at me, but I can’t blame her. I guess I can kiss the lyrics good-bye. My door swings open, and Warren barges in, then hurls a cookie straight at me. I duck, and it hits the headboard behind me. “Asshole!” Warren yells. He turns and marches back out of the bedroom and slams the door. Chapter Four Sydney I must be in shock. How the hell did the day turn out like this? How does one girl go from having a best friend, a boyfriend, a purse, and a roof over her head to being heartbroken and naked, standing frozen in a strange shower, staring at the wall for half an hour straight? I swear to God, if this is some huge elaborate birthday hoax at my expense, I’m never speaking to anyone. Ever again. Ever. However, I know it’s not a hoax. A hoax is just wishful thinking. I knew the second I walked through the front door and headed straight for Hunter that everything Ridge had said was true. I flat-out asked Hunter if he was sleeping with Tori, and the looks on both of their faces would have been comical if they didn’t completely crush my heart and deplete my trust in one fell swoop. I wanted to sink to the floor and cry when he couldn’t deny it. Instead, I walked calmly to my bedroom and began packing my things. Tori came into the room, crying. She tried to tell me it meant nothing, that sex had always been a casual thing between them, even before they met me. Hearing her say it meant nothing to them hurt worse than anything. If it meant something to either of them, at least I could vaguely understand their betrayal. But the fact that she was claiming it meant nothing, yet it still happened, hurt me more than anything else she could have possibly said at that moment. I’m pretty sure that’s when I punched her. It doesn’t help matters that I lost my job just minutes after Ridge told me about Hunter and Tori. I think it’s frowned upon in most libraries when student workers begin crying and throwing books at the wall in the middle of their shift. But I can’t help the fact that I happened to be stocking the romance section the second I found out my boyfriend of two years was sleeping with my roommate. The sappy, romantic covers on the cart in front of me just really pissed me off. I turn the water off in Ridge’s shower and step out, then get dressed. I feel better physically after finally getting into dry clothes, but my heart is growing heavier and heavier with each passing minute. The more time that passes by, the more my reality begins to sink in. In the course of just two hours, I’ve lost the entire last two years of my life. That’s a lot of time to invest in two people who were supposed to be the most trusted people in my life. I’m not sure if I would have ended up marrying Hunter or if he would have been the father of any future children of mine, but it hurts to know that I trusted him enough to possibly fill those roles, and he ended up being the opposite of who I thought he was. I think the fact that I misjudged him pisses me off more than the fact that he cheated on me. If I can’t even accurately judge the people closest to me, then I can’t trust anyone. Ever. I hate them for taking that away from me. Now, no matter who comes into my life after this, I’ll always be skeptical. I walk back into the living room, and all the lights are out except for a lamp beside the couch. I look at my phone, and it’s barely after nine. Several texts came through while I was in the shower, so I take a seat on the couch and scroll through them. Hunter: Please call me. We need to talk. Tori: I’m not mad at you for hitting me. Please call me. Hunter: I’m worried about you. Where are you? Ridge: I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. Are you okay? Hunter: I’ll bring your purse to you. Just tell me where you are. I drop the phone onto the coffee table and sink back onto the couch. I have no idea what I’m going to do. Of course, I never want to speak to either of them again, but where does that put me? I can’t afford my own apartment right now, since financial aid doesn’t come in for another month. I don’t have enough money in savings to put down a deposit plus get all the utilities turned on until then. The majority of the friends I’ve made since I’ve been going to school here still live in dorms, so staying with them is out of the question. I’m basically left with two options: Call my parents, or enter into some odd plural relationship with Hunter and Tori in order to save money. Neither option is one I’m willing to entertain tonight. I’m just thankful that Ridge allowed me to stay at his place. At least I’m saving money on a hotel room. I have no idea where I’ll go when I wake up in the morning, but that’s still a good twelve hours away. Until then, I’ll just continue to hate the entire universe while I feel sorry for myself. And what better way to feel sorry for myself than while getting drunk? I need alcohol. Bad. I walk to the kitchen and begin to scan the cabinets. I hear the door to Ridge’s bedroom open. I glance over my shoulder at him as he comes out of his room. His hair is definitely light brown. Take that, Tori. He’s in a faded T-shirt and jeans, and he’s barefoot, eyeing me inquisitively as he makes his way into the kitchen. I feel a little embarrassed for being caught rummaging through his cabinets, so I turn away from him before he sees me blush. “I need a drink,” I say. “You got any alcohol?” He’s staring down at his phone, texting again. He either can’t do two things at once, or he’s upset because I had an attitude with him today. “I’m sorry if I was a bitch to you, Ridge, but you have to admit, my response was a little justified considering the day I’ve had.” He casually slips his phone into his pocket and looks at me from across the bar, but he chooses not to respond to my half-assed apology. He purses his lips and cocks an eyebrow. I’d like to smack that cocky eyebrow back down where it belongs. What the hell is his problem? The worst thing I did to him was flip him off. I roll my eyes and shut the last cabinet, then walk back to the couch. He’s really being a jerk, considering my situation. From the little time I’ve known him, I was under the impression that he was actually a nice guy, but I’d almost rather go back to my own apartment with Tori and Hunter. I pick up my phone, expecting another text from Hunter, but it’s from Ridge. Ridge: If you aren’t going to look at me when you speak, you might want to stick to texting. I read the text several times, trying to make sense of it, but no matter how many times I read it, I don’t understand it. I grow concerned that maybe he’s a little weird and I need to leave. I look at him, and he’s watching me. He can see the confusion on my face, but he still doesn’t explain himself. Instead, he resumes texting. When my phone receives another message, I look at the screen. Ridge: I’m deaf, Sydney. Deaf? Oh. Wait. Deaf? But how? We’ve had so many conversations. The last few weeks of knowing him and talking to him flash through my memory, and I can’t recall a single time I’ve actually heard him speak. Is that why Bridgette thought I was deaf? I stare at my phone, sinking into a heap of embarrassment. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I’m sure that feeling betrayed isn’t a fair response, but I can’t help it. I feel I need to tack this onto the “Ways the world can betray Sydney on her birthday” list. Not only did he not tell me he knew my boyfriend was screwing around on me, but he also failed to mention that he’s deaf? Not that being deaf is something he should feel obliged to tell me. I just . . . I don’t know. I feel a little hurt that he didn’t share that fact with me. Me: Why didn’t you tell me you were deaf? Ridge: Why didn’t you tell me you could hear? I tilt my head as I read his text and flood with even more humiliation. He makes a very good point. Oh, well. At least he won’t hear me cry myself to sleep tonight. Me: Do you have any alcohol? Ridge reads my text and laughs, then nods. He walks to the cabinet below the sink and pulls out a container of Pine-Sol. He takes two glasses out of the cabinet, then proceeds to fill them with . . . cleaning liquid? “What the hell are you doing?” I ask. When he doesn’t turn around, I slap myself in the forehead, remembering he can’t hear me. This will take some getting used to. I walk to where he’s standing. When he sets the Pine-Sol down on the counter and picks up both glasses, I grab the bottle of cleaning solution and read it, then arch an eyebrow. He laughs and hands me a glass. He sniffs his drink, then motions for me to do the same. I hesitantly bring it to my nose and am met with the burning scent of whiskey. He holds the glass out, clinks it to mine, and we both down our shots. I’m still recovering from the awful taste when he picks up his phone and texts me again. Ridge: Our other roommate has an issue with alcohol, so we have to hide it from him. Me: Is his issue that he hates it? Ridge: His issue is that he doesn’t like to pay for it himself and he drinks everyone else’s. I nod, set my phone back down, grab the container, and pour us each another shot. We repeat the motions, downing the second one. I grimace as the burn spreads its way down my throat and through my chest. I shake my head, then open my eyes. “Can you read lips?” I ask. He shrugs, then grabs a piece of paper and a pen conveniently placed on the counter next to him. Depends on the lips. I guess that makes sense. “Can you read mine?” He nods and takes the pen again. Mostly. I’ve learned to anticipate what people are going to say more than anything. I take most of my cues from body language and the situations I’m in. “What do you mean?” I ask, pushing on the counter with my palms and hopping up onto the bar. I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t hear before. I didn’t realize I was full of so many questions. It could be that I’m already feeling a buzz or I just don’t want him to go back to his room yet. I don’t want to be left alone to think about Hunter and Tori. Ridge sets the notepad down and picks up my phone, then tosses it to me. He pulls one of the bar stools out and sits on it next to where I’m seated on the counter. Ridge: If I’m at the store and a cashier speaks to me, I can mostly guess what they’re asking. Same thing with a waitress at a restaurant. It’s pretty simple to gather what people are saying when it’s a routine conversation. Me: But what about right now? This isn’t routine. I doubt you have many homeless girls spend the night on your couch, so how do you know what I’m saying? Ridge: Because you’re basically asking me the same questions as anyone else who initially finds out I can’t hear. It’s the same conversation, just different people. This comment bothers me, because I don’t want to seem like those kinds of people at all. It has to get old, having to field the same questions over and over. Me: Well, I don’t really want to know about it, then. Let’s change the subject. Ridge looks up at me and smiles. Damn. I don’t know if it’s the whiskey or the fact that I’ve been single for two hours, but that smile does some serious flirting with my stomach. Ridge: Let’s talk about music. “Okay,” I say with a nod. Ridge: I wanted to talk to you about this tonight. You know, before I ruined your life and all that. I want you to write lyrics for my band. For the songs I have written and maybe some future songs if you’re up for it. I pause before responding to him. My initial response is to ask him about his band, because I’ve been dying to see this guy perform. My second response is to ask him how the hell he can play a guitar if he can’t hear, but again, I don’t want to be one of “those people.” My third response is to automatically say no, because agreeing to give someone lyrics is a lot of pressure. Pressure I don’t really want right now, since my life has pretty much taken a nosedive today. I shake my head. “No. I don’t think I want to do that.” Ridge: We would pay you. That gets my attention. I suddenly feel an option three making its way into the picture. Me: What kind of pay are we talking about? I still think you’re insane for wanting me to help you write lyrics, but you may have caught me at a very desperate and destitute moment, being as though I’m homeless and could use some extra money. Ridge: Why do you keep referring to yourself as homeless? Do you not have a place to stay? Me: Well, I could stay with my parents, but that would mean I’d have to transfer schools my senior year, and it would put me about two semesters behind. I could also stay with my roommate, but I don’t know how much I’d like to hear her screwing my boyfriend of two years at night while I try to sleep. Ridge: You’re a smartass. Me: Yeah, I guess I’ve got that going for me. Ridge: You can stay here. We’re kind of in search of a fourth roommate. If it means you’ll help us with the songs, you can stay for free until you get back on your feet. I read the text twice, slowly. I shake my head. Ridge: Just until you can get your own place. Me: No. I don’t even know you. Besides, your Hooters girlfriend already hates me. Ridge laughs at that comment. Ridge: Bridgette is not my girlfriend. And she’s hardly ever here, so you don’t have to worry about her. Me: This is too weird. Ridge: What other option do you have? I saw you didn’t even have cab fare earlier. You’re pretty much at my mercy. Me: I have cab fare. I left my purse in my apartment, and I didn’t want to go back up to get it, so I didn’t have a way to pay the driver. Ridge frowns when he reads my text. Ridge: I’ll go with you to get it if you need it. I look up at him. “Are you sure?” I ask. He smiles and walks toward the front door, so I follow him. Ridge It’s still raining out, and I know she just put on dry clothes after her shower, so once we reach the bottom of the stairwell, I pull my phone out and text her. Me: Wait here so you don’t get wet again. I’ll go get it myself. She reads the text and shakes her head, then looks back up at me. “No. I’m going with you.” I can’t help but appreciate the fact that she doesn’t respond to my being deaf the way I expect her to. Most people become uneasy once they aren’t sure how to communicate with me. The majority of them raise their voices and talk slowly, sort of like Bridgette. I guess they think being louder will somehow miraculously make me hear again. However, it does nothing but force me to contain my laughter while they talk to me as if I’m an idiot. Granted, I know people don’t do it to be disrespectful. It’s just simple ignorance, and that’s fine. I’m so used to it I don’t even notice anymore. However, I did notice Sydney’s reaction . . . because there really wasn’t one. As soon as she found out, she just propped herself up on the counter and continued talking to me, even though she moved from speaking to texting. And it helps that she’s a fast texter. We run across the courtyard until we reach the base of the stairs that lead up to her apartment. I begin walking up and notice that she’s frozen at the bottom of the stairs. The look in her eyes is nervous, and I instantly feel bad for not realizing how hard this must be for her. I know she’s probably hurting a lot more than she’s letting on. Learning that your best friend and your boyfriend have betrayed you has to be difficult, and it hasn’t even been a day since she found out. I walk back down the stairs and grab her hand, then smile at her reassuringly. I tug on her hand; she takes a deep breath and walks with me up the stairs. She taps me on the shoulder before we reach her door, and I turn around. “Can I wait here?” she says. “I don’t want to see them.” I nod, relieved that her lips are easy to read. “But cow well you ass therefore my bird?” she says. Or I think that’s what she said. I laugh, knowing I more than likely completely misread her lips. She says it again when she sees the confusion on my face, but I still don’t understand her. I hold up my phone so she can text me. Sydney: But how will you ask them for my purse? Yeah. I was a little off on that one. Me: I’ll get your purse, Sydney. Wait here. She nods. I type out a text as I walk to the front door and knock. A minute passes, and no one comes to the door, so I knock again, with more force, thinking maybe my first knock was too soft to be heard. The doorknob turns, and Sydney’s friend appears in the doorway. She eyes me curiously for a second, then glances behind her. The door opens wider, and Hunter appears, eyeing me suspiciously. He says something that looks like “Can I help you?” I hold up the text that says I’m here for Sydney’s purse, and he looks down and reads it, then shakes his head. “Who the hell are you?” he says, apparently not liking the fact that I’m here on Sydney’s behalf. The girl disappears from the doorway, and he opens the door even farther, then folds his arms over his chest and glares at me. I motion to my ear and shake my head, letting him know that I can’t hear what he’s saying. He pauses, then throws his head back and laughs and disappears from the doorway. I glance to Sydney, who is standing nervously at the top of the stairs, watching me. Her face is pale, and I give her a wink, letting her know everything is okay. Hunter comes back, slaps a piece of paper against the door, and writes on it. He holds the paper up for me to read. Are you fucking her? Jesus, what a prick. I motion for the pen and paper, and he hands them to me. I write my response and hand it back to him. He looks down at the paper, and his jaw tightens. He crumples up the paper, drops it to the floor, and then, before I can react, his fist is coming at me. I accept the hit, knowing I should have been prepared for it. The girl reappears, and I can tell she’s screaming, although I have no idea whom she’s screaming at or what she’s saying. As soon as I take a step back from the doorway, Sydney is in front of me, rushing into the apartment. My eyes follow her as she runs down the hallway, disappears into a room, and comes back out clutching a purse. The girl steps in front of her and places her hands on Sydney’s shoulders, but Sydney pulls her arm back, makes a fist, and punches the girl in the face. Hunter tries to step in front of Sydney to block her from leaving, so I tap him on the shoulder. When he turns around, I punch him square in the nose, and he stumbles back. Sydney’s eyes go wide, and she looks back at me. I grab her hand and pull her out of the apartment, toward the stairs. Luckily, the rain has finally stopped, so we both break into a run back toward my apartment. I glance behind me a couple of times to make sure neither of them is following us. Once we make it back across the courtyard and up my stairs, I swing open the door and step aside so she can run in. I shut the door behind us and bend over, clasping my knees with my hands to catch my breath. What an asshole. I’m not sure what Sydney saw in him, but the fact that she dated him makes me question her judgment a little bit. I glance up at her, expecting to see her in tears, but instead, she’s laughing. She’s sitting on the floor, attempting to catch her breath, laughing hysterically. I can’t help but smile, seeing her reaction. And the fact that she punched that girl right in the face without a moment’s hesitation? I’ve got to hand it to her, she’s tougher than I first thought. She looks up at me and inhales a calming breath, then mouths the words thank you, while holding up her purse. She stands up and brushes the wet hair out of her face, then walks to the kitchen and opens a few drawers until she finds a dishtowel and pulls it out. She wets it under the faucet, turns around, and motions me over. When I reach her, I lean against the counter while she takes my chin and angles my face to the left. She presses the towel to my lip, and I wince. I didn’t even realize it was hurting until she touched it. She pulls the rag back, and there’s blood on it, so she rinses it under the faucet and puts it back up to my mouth. I notice that her own hand is red. I take it and inspect it. It’s already swelling. I pull the rag from her hand and wipe the rest of the blood off my face, then grab a ziplock bag out of the cabinet, go to the freezer, and fill it with ice. I take her hand and press the ice onto it, letting her know she needs to keep it there. I lean against the counter next to her and pull my phone out. Me: You hit her good. Your hand is already swelling. She texts me with one hand, keeping the ice on top of the other as she rests it on the counter. Sydney: It could be because that wasn’t the first time I’ve punched her today. Or it could also be swollen because you aren’t the first one to punch Hunter today. Me: Wow. I’m impressed. Or terrified. Is three punches your daily average? Sydney: Three punches is now my lifetime average. I laugh. She shrugs and sets her phone down, then pulls the ice off her hand and brings it back up to my mouth. “Your lip is swelling,” she says. My hands are clenching the countertop behind me. I become increasingly uneasy with how comfortable she is with all this. Thoughts of Maggie flash through my head, and I can’t help but wonder if she’d be okay with this scenario if she were to walk through the front door right now. I need a distraction. Me: You want birthday cake? She smiles and nods. Me: I probably shouldn’t drive, since you’ve turned me into a raging alcoholic tonight, but if you feel like walking, Park’s Diner makes a damn good dessert, and it’s less than a mile from here. Pretty sure the rain is over. “Let me change,” she says, motioning to her clothes. She pulls clothes from her suitcase, then heads to the bathroom. I put the top on the Pine-Sol and hide it back under the cabinet. Chapter Five Sydney We don’t interact much while we eat. We’re both sitting in the booth with our backs to the wall and our legs stretched out in front of us on the seats. We’re quietly watching the restaurant crowd, and I can’t stop wondering what it’s like for him, not being able to hear anything going on around us. I’m probably too blunt for my own good, but I have to ask him what’s on my mind. Me: What’s being deaf like? Do you feel like you’re in on a secret that no one else knows about? Like you have a leg up on everyone because the fact that you can’t hear has magnified all your other senses and you’ve got superhuman powers and no one can tell just by looking at you? He almost spits out his drink while reading my text. He laughs, and it occurs to me that his laugh is the only sound I’ve heard him make. I know that some people who can’t hear can still talk, but I haven’t heard him say a single word all night. Not even to the waitress. He either points to what he wants on the menu or writes it down. Ridge: I can honestly say I’ve never thought about it like that before. I kind of like it that you think of it that way, though. To be honest, I don’t think about it at all. It’s normal to me. I have nothing to compare it to, because it’s all I’ve ever known. Me: I’m sorry. I’m being one of those people again, aren’t I? I guess me asking you to compare being deaf to not being deaf is like you asking me to compare being a girl to being a boy. Ridge: Don’t apologize. I like that you’re interested enough to ask me about it. Most people are a little weirded out by it, so they don’t say anything at all. I’ve noticed it’s kind of hard to make friends, but that’s also a good thing. The few friends I do have are genuine, so I look at it as an easy way of weeding out all the shallow, ignorant assholes. Me: Good to know I’m not a shallow, ignorant asshole. Ridge: Wish I could say the same about your ex. I sigh. Ridge is right, but damn if it doesn’t sting to know I couldn’t see through Hunter’s bullshit. I put my phone down and eat the last of my cake. “Thank you,” I say as I put my fork down. I honestly forgot for a while that today was my birthday until he offered to take me out for cake. He shrugs as if it isn’t a big deal, but it is a big deal. I can’t believe after the day I’ve had that I’m actually in a semidecent mood. Ridge can take credit for that, because if it weren’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be tonight or what kind of emotional state I’d be in. He takes a drink of his soda, then sits upright in the booth. He nods his head to the door, and I agree that I’m ready to go. The buzz from the alcohol has worn off, and as we make our way out of the restaurant and back into the dark, I can feel myself beginning to succumb to the heartache again. I guess Ridge sees the look on my face, because he puts his arm around me and briefly squeezes my shoulders. He drops his arm and pulls his phone out. Ridge: For what it’s worth, he doesn’t deserve you. Me: I know. But it still hurts that I ever thought he deserved me. And honestly, I’m more hurt about Tori than I am about what happened with Hunter. I’m mostly just pissed at Hunter. Ridge: Yeah, I don’t even know the guy, and I’ve been pretty pissed at him. I can’t imagine how you must feel. I’m surprised you haven’t retaliated with some evil revenge plot yet. Me: I’m not that clever. I wish I were, because I’d be all about revenge right now. Ridge stops walking and turns to face me. He cocks an eyebrow, and a slightly wicked grin appears. It makes me laugh, because I can tell by his smile that he’s mapping out a plan. “Okay,” I say, nodding my head without even knowing what he’s about to propose. “As long as it doesn’t land us in jail.” Ridge: Do you know if he leaves his car unlocked? • • • “Fish?” I ask, crinkling my nose in disgust. We’ve made a pit stop at a local grocery store next to the apartment complex, and he’s buying a huge, scaly whole fish. I’m assuming this has to be part of his elaborate revenge scheme, but he could just be hungry. Ridge: We need duct tape. I follow him to the hardware aisle, where he grabs a roll of heavy-duty duct tape. Fresh fish and duct tape. I’m still not sure what he has planned, but I sort of like where this is headed. • • • When we’re back at the apartment, I point out Hunter’s car. I run up to the apartment to grab his spare car key out of my purse, where I still have it, while Ridge wraps the fish with duct tape. I come back downstairs and hand him the key. Me: So what exactly are we about to do with this fish? Ridge: Watch and learn, Sydney. We walk to Hunter’s car, and Ridge unlocks the passenger door. He has me tear off several pieces of duct tape while he reaches under the passenger seat. I’m watching closely—in case I need to seek revenge against anyone in the future—and he presses it against the underside of the seat. I hand him several more pieces of duct tape, trying to contain my laughter while he secures the raw fish with it. After he’s sure it won’t come loose, he slides out of the car and closes the door, looking around innocently. My hand is over my mouth, stifling my laughter, and he’s as cool and composed as can be. We casually walk away from the car, and once we’re on the stairs to the apartment, we begin laughing. Ridge: His car is going to smell like death in a matter of twenty-four hours. He’ll never find it. Me: You’re kind of evil. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’ve done this before. He laughs as we make our way back inside. We kick off our shoes at the door, and he tosses the duct tape onto the counter. I use the bathroom and make sure to unlock the door to his bedroom before I walk back out. In the living room, all the lights are out, except for the lamp by the couch. I lie down and check my phone one last time before turning it on silent. Ridge: Good night. Sorry your birthday sucked. Me: Thanks to you, it was better than it could have been. I place the phone under my pillow and cover up. I close my eyes, and my smile immediately fades when the silence takes over. I can feel the tears coming, so I cover my head with the blanket and brace myself for a long night of heartache. The respite with Ridge was nice, but I have nothing to distract me now from the fact that I’m having the worst day of my life. I can’t understand how Tori could do something like this to me. We’ve been best friends for almost three years. I told her everything. I trusted her with everything. I told her things I would never dream of telling Hunter. Why would she risk our friendship for sex? I’ve never felt this hurt. I pull the blanket over my eyes and begin to sob. Happy birthday to me. • • • I have the pillow pulled tightly over my head, but it doesn’t drown out the sound of gravel crunching beneath shoes. Why is someone walking on a driveway so noisily? And why can I even hear it? Wait. Where am I? Did yesterday really happen? I reluctantly open my eyes, and I’m met with sunlight, so I pull the pillow tighter over my face and give myself a minute to adjust. The sound seems to get louder, so I lift the pillow from my face and peer out with one eye open. The first thing I see is a kitchen that isn’t mine. Oh, yeah. That’s right. I’m on Ridge’s couch, and twenty-two is the worst age ever. I lift the pillow all the way off my head and groan as I squeeze my eyes shut again. “Who are you and why are you sleeping on my couch?” My body jumps, and my eyes flick open at the deep voice that can’t be more than a foot away. Two eyes peer down at me. I pull my head back against the couch to put more space between me and the curious eyes to get a better look at who they’re attached to. It’s a guy. A guy I’ve never seen before. He’s sitting on the floor directly in front of the couch, and he’s holding a bowl. He dips a spoon into the bowl and shoves it into his mouth, then begins the loud crunching again. I’m guessing that’s not gravel he’s eating. “Are you the new roommate?” he says with his mouth full. I shake my head. “No,” I mutter. “I’m a friend of Ridge’s.” He cocks his head and looks at me suspiciously. “Ridge only has one friend,” the guy says. “Me.” He shoves another spoonful of cereal into his mouth and fails to back out of my personal space. I push my palms into the couch and sit up so that he’s not right in my face. “Jealous?” I ask. The guy continues to stare at me. “What’s his last name?” “Whose last name?” “Your very good friend, Ridge,” he says cockily. I roll my eyes and drop my head against the back of the couch. I don’t know who the hell this guy is, but I really don’t care to compete over our levels of friendship with Ridge. “I don’t know Ridge’s last name. I don’t know his middle name. The only thing I know about him is that he’s got a mean right hook. And I’m only sleeping on your couch because my boyfriend of two years decided it would be fun to screw my roommate and I really didn’t want to stick around to watch.” He nods, then swallows. “It’s Lawson. And he doesn’t have a middle name.” As if the morning could get any worse, Bridgette appears from the hallway and walks into the kitchen. The guy on the floor takes another spoonful of cereal and looks at Bridgette, finally breaking his uncomfortable lock on me. “Good morning, Bridgette,” he says with an odd, sarcastic tone to his voice. “Sleep well?” She looks at him briefly and rolls her eyes. “Screw you, Warren,” she snaps. He turns his gaze back to mine with a mischievous grin. “That’s Bridgette,” he whispers. “She pretends to hate me during the day, but at night, she loves me.” I laugh, not really trusting that Bridgette is capable of loving anyone. “Shit!” she yells, catching herself on the bar before she trips. “Jesus Christ!” She kicks one of my suitcases, still on the floor next to the bar. “Tell your little friend if she’s staying here, she needs to take her shit to her room!” Warren makes a face as if he’s scared for me, then turns his head toward Bridgette. “What am I, your bitch? Tell her yourself.” Bridgette points to the suitcase she almost tripped over. “GET . . . YOUR . . . SHIT . . . OUT . . . OF . . . THE . . . KITCHEN!” she says, before marching back to her bedroom. Warren slowly turns his head back to face me and laughs. “Why does she think you’re deaf?” I shrug. “I have no idea. She came to that conclusion last night, and I failed to correct her.” He laughs again, much louder. “Oh, this is classic,” he says. “Do you have any pets?” I shake my head. “Are you opposed to porn?” I don’t know how we just began playing Twenty Questions, but I answer him anyway. “Not opposed to the principle of porn but opposed to being featured in one.” He nods, contemplating my answer for a beat too long. “Do you have annoying friends?” I shake my head. “My best friend is a backstabbing whore, and I’m no longer speaking to her.” “What are your showering habits?” I laugh. “Once a day, with a skipped day every now and then. No more than fifteen minutes.” “Do you cook?” “Only when I’m hungry.” “Do you clean up after yourself?” “Probably better than you,” I say, taking in the fact that he’s used his shirt for a napkin no fewer than three times during this conversation. “Do you listen to disco?” “I’d rather eat barbed wire.” “All right, then,” he says. “I guess you can stay.” I pull my feet up and sit cross-legged. “I didn’t realize I was being interviewed.” He glances at my suitcases, then back to me. “It’s obvious you need a place to stay, and we’ve got an empty room. If you don’t take it, Bridgette wants to move her sister in next month, and that’s the last thing Ridge and I need.” “I can’t stay here,” I say. “Why not? From the sound of it, you’re about to spend the day searching for an apartment anyway. What’s wrong with this one? You won’t even have to walk very far to get here.” I want to say that Ridge is the problem. He’s been nice, but I think that might be the issue. I’ve been single for less than twenty-four hours, and I don’t like the fact that although I should have been consumed with nightmares about Hunter and Tori all night, instead, I had a slightly disturbing dream involving an extremely accommodating Ridge. I don’t tell Warren that Ridge is why I can’t stay here, though. Partly because that would give Warren more ammunition for questions and partly because Ridge just walked into the kitchen and is looking at us. Warren winks at me, then stands up and walks with his bowl to the sink. He looks at Ridge. “Have you met our new roommate?” Warren asks. Ridge signs something to him. Warren shakes his head and signs back. I sit on the couch and watch their silent conversation, slightly in awe that Warren knows sign language. I wonder if he’s learned it for Ridge’s benefit. Maybe they’re brothers? Warren laughs, and Ridge glances in my direction before walking back to his bedroom. “What did he say?” I ask, suddenly worried that Ridge no longer wants me here. Warren shrugs and begins walking back towar