Anika Mason isn’t exactly the brightest ray of sunshine… But nevertheless, people are drawn to her. And that includes two very attractive boys, whose attention Anika never asked for. And when a mysterious unknown admirer starts sending Anika unsettling messages, she’s left wondering who else might be vying for her heart. He’ll stop at nothing until Anika is his…
Age Rating: 16+
Mine by Amber Sermersheim is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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It was a beautiful, sunny California morning…but I wasn’t what one might call the “sunny” type.
I scowled through the windshield of my car.
“One mocha frappé, no whip,” I called into the drive-thru ordering system. “And an egg McMuffin.”
You didn’t want to mess with me before I had my coffee. I was gripping the wheel like the freakin’ Grinch who stole Christmas.
When I pulled up, the new cashier, who I had seen a few times, handed me the coffee and paper bag. I immediately took a cold, sugary sip.
“Oh, I know you. You’re the cutie who comes every morning.” The sucker smiled. “What’s your name?”
I looked at the receipt stapled to the bag.
“The name’s ‘Order number forty-five,’” I said, deadpan. “Have a fantastic day.”
The cashier shook his head but grinned. “See you later, forty-five.”
I groaned as I pulled out of the drive-thru toward Main Street. It was strange to get that kind of attention, especially when I hadn’t showered or put on makeup that morning.
Of course, I wasn’t pretending to know what boys were into. I just knew from experience that it wasn’t me.
The guy had been right about one thing, though. I went through the Micky D’s drive-thru nearly every morning.
See, I didn’t have cheerful parents to wake me up and make me pancakes. My family was nowhere near picture perfect…to the point that I wanted my parents out of the picture.
A year ago, my parents moved to Washington. When they demanded I come too, I had been legally emancipated with the help of the state.
Given my parents’…circumstances…it wasn’t as difficult as you’d think.
Now, my family was my two best friends: Mitchell and Sierra. They were all I needed.
I blasted the punk rock radio station as I drank my frappé, the caffeine and sugar giving me life.
At school, I pulled into my usual parking spot. Luckily, Sierra was parked next to me, applying lip gloss in her rearview mirror. In the passenger seat was our other bestie, Mitchell.
“Good morning, bitches!” I yelled. Sierra blew me a kiss.
“Someone’s in a good mood this morning… Ooh, can I have a sip of that?” she asked.
I held out the drink to her as I slung my backpack over my shoulder.
“Me, too!” Mitchell said, taking it from her.
“Easy!” I warned. “That’s my sustenance.”
Mitchell passed it back, and I smiled sweetly.
“Ready for one more day in hell?” I asked.
“You bet.” She winked. “See you in English…your favorite subject.”
“Your favorite, too,” I corrected her.
“But I’m not hot for teacher.” She raised her eyebrows, and I rolled my eyes.
Through the double doors, I headed for my locker, and she went for hers. The halls were swarmed with students…punks, cheerleaders, jocks, misfits, you name it.
Pine Grove High had them all.
Crowds always freaked me out, and I instinctively reached for my necklace. When I didn’t feel it, I clawed at my neck like a crazy person.
My heart was thumping, my mind whirling in disbelief, but eventually I knew it was true. I had lost my penguin necklace.
I hoped it had fallen off at home… Ever since my dad gave me the necklace five years ago, I had never taken it off. The Christmas when he gave it to me was the last good memory I had of him.
So how the hell did I lose it?
I continued to my locker, acknowledging that my premonition had been right. This was the worst day of my life, and it wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet.
I messed with the lock on my locker for a good two minutes before it finally opened.
Ugh. This day is gonna be a shitshow.
Inside the door, I had taped up photos of Mitchell, Sierra, and I. Oh, and some magazine cutouts of penguins.
Penguins were my favorite. And I didn’t care how crazy my obsession with flightless birds made me seem.
I grabbed my copy of The Great Gatsby for English, but when I turned, I found myself face to chest with a tall, muscular boy.
“If you’ll excuse me.” I dodged right, and the person mirrored the movement. “Ugh!”
I looked up to see none other than Brady Parker. He wore his signature so-called chick-magnet smirk that crinkled the corner of his eyes. His blond hair was tousled in an annoyingly perfect way.
“Having some trouble today, Anika?” he asked.
“You have no idea,” I grumbled. “If I were you, I would get out of my way.”
Apparently, my threat worked because Brady stepped to the side, bowing, and gestured with his arms the way I should go.
I rolled my eyes and started on my way, only to be stopped in my tracks.
I turned around to find Brady was holding me in place by my backpack.
“I just wanted to chat, Anika,” he said innocently. “I thought I could help you out.”
I wiggled, trying to wrench my backpack out of his grip. But the guy was strong. And I was stuck.
“I don’t—want—to chat!” I cried, thrashing some more.
Realizing it was a hopeless cause, I stopped moving. I could practically feel Brady’s smirk.
But I didn’t plan to give him the chat he wanted. I pulled my arms free from my backpack and headed to class without it.
“Pink has always been your color, Parker!” I called over my shoulder.
I didn’t even bother to turn and see Brady’s face as he stood in the busy hall holding my neon-pink backpack.
There she was.
Even though that dunce Brady was trying to get to her, she didn’t let him. She was just as spunky as I remembered.
She was taller than I remembered, of course, because it had been years. And now her body was a woman’s.
The very sight of her made my heart ache.
From my corner vantage point, I let love wash over me with every bob of her messy bun. If you think it’s weird to be hiding in a corner, you have to understand that I was a very handsome man.
It wasn’t easy to go unnoticed. And I only wanted one person to notice me.
I wanted to protect her and make sure no one could lay a finger on her—even if the person was only irritating her.
I needed to make her mine.
Stepping from the shadows, I headed straight for the prick who was blushing as pink as the backpack in his hands.
“I take it that isn’t yours,” I started. I could tell Brady wasn’t used to being talked down to. But it wasn’t difficult since, at 6’3”, I was a few inches taller than him.
“It’s not yours, either,” he replied, tugging the pack away.
But his strength was no match for mine. I reached for it and snatched it from him.
“I’ll be returning this to its rightful owner,” I told him, my voice low so that he’d know not to mess with me.
And then I headed off on my merry way.
I couldn’t help but smile. Pine Grove High wasn’t ready for me.
Another guy might be nervous to start a new school halfway through the second semester of junior year—but not me.
I lived in this town years ago, and I knew the scene. My time in Alaska had made me stronger, and I was ready to return.
Alaska’s beautiful wilderness had helped me to train my body and my mind.
I was going to show these high school punks what a real man looked like.
And I was going to see her again. The one who never left my thoughts or my dreams.
The one who’d inspired me to move back.
I sank into my usual seat at the back of the class next to Sierra.
“Where’s your—?” she began.
“Long, stupid story,” I sighed. “Could I borrow a pencil?”
Mr. Shrem, my favorite teacher, hustled into the room and stood at the front of the class.
He was wearing his signature bow tie.
“Good morning, students!” he called cheerfully.
“Good morning, Mr. Shrem,” a few students groaned.
“Today we’re starting The Great Gatsby, one of my personal favorites, and a timeless story about unrequited love and—”
“Shit,” I cursed in my head, reaching for my phone in my pocket to silence it.
“Phones off! I’m not afraid to give out detentions,” Shrem went on, even though I knew that that softy would never give me one.
I was his favorite student.
I turned my phone to vibrate. It was just a text from Mitchell, probably sending me a meme.
“Anika…” Shrem chastised. I shot him an apologetic look and tucked my phone away in time for the classroom door to open.
In stepped a rather gorgeous male specimen wearing a leather jacket. He held himself with confidence and swagger as he ran his hand through his dark hair.
My heart stopped. He was staring straight at me.
“Sorry for the interruption, Mr. Shrem,” the guy said. He turned to our teacher for a moment, “I’m Foster Woods.”
For the second part of his introduction, he looked back at me. “I’m a new student here. And no, I’m not available. People keep asking me.”
“Alright, that’s enough, Foster…” Mr. Shrem said with a sigh. “Welcome to our class. Take any free seat.”
For some reason, maybe because the dude’s ice-blue eyes were boring into mine, I felt heat rise to my cheeks.
And…he was coming straight for the empty desk next to me.
My heart accelerated, though I couldn’t tell if I was excited or afraid.
As the new guy maneuvered around the desk of a girl who was practically drooling over him, I saw the craziest thing of the whole fucked-up day.
Foster was wearing my backpack!
He slid into the seat next to me and placed my pink backpack beside my desk.
He didn’t smile. He just nodded confidently.
Who IS this guy?
I turned away and pretended to be absorbed in the lesson. Mr. Shrem was giving us an introduction to the roaring ’20s.
It was interesting and all, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the guy beside me…who kept looking at me.
I squirmed under his attention, risking a glance at him. He smiled. He was cute, that was for sure.
There was something serious about him, and something sort of familiar that I couldn’t place. He seemed older than a high school junior, and he had an air of mystery.
But one thing that was very clear was that he liked me. He was still staring.
This day couldn’t get any weirder.
After class, I headed to lunch.
My phone buzzed again, and I reached for it, hoping Mitchell had sent me a meme so fire it could distract me from my strange predicament.
But the text was from an unknown number, and when I slid it open, my blood ran cold.
I had been wrong.
This day could get weirder.
And it just had.
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“Yo, Anika!” I called as I dodged through the halls like a ninja during the post-bell rush.
The girl was fast. She was going somewhere with a purpose. That purpose was probably to get out of this shithole…but not before I got ahold of her.
“Hey!” I called again, finally falling into step beside her.
She glimpsed my way momentarily before reverting her gaze back to the hall. If only she knew how much I loved it when she played hard to get.
Or she just…was hard to get. That girl didn’t have to play pretend.
“So…question,” I began, keeping pace with her, “You ditch me with your heavy backpack this morning…and then you stick your new boyfriend on me. What’s up with that?”
“Well, Brady,” she practically spat. “In case you don’t recall, you were holding onto my backpack, and I wanted to get away from you. So…” She shrugged.
I pushed open the double doors for her, but she insisted on making her own way.
“Oh, and I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said, giving me side-eye.
I hustled to keep up as she ran down the stairs.
“Well, don’t tell that guy. That stalker seems like he’s capable of anything.”
Anika stopped and sighed dramatically.
“I don’t even know who that guy is,” she said, groaning.
Finally, she looked at me, and for a moment, I was lost in her brown eyes. There was just something so easy about being around Anika.
Maybe it was her fierce independence.
Or maybe the way she never seemed to give me the time of day when all the other girls cleared their schedules for me.
Whatever it was…that girl had something special.
“Well, he knows who you are,” I said.
Anika groaned even more dramatically. “Just drop it, Brady.”
“Hard day?” I teased. “Too many bullies stealing your pretty pink backpack?”
“Why did you want a pretty pink backpack, anyway?” I asked. “And yeah. That sucked. Don’t do it again.”
I smiled, leaning down to her.
“Because it looks so good on you. And only if you say ‘please.’”
“Please,” she replied. But then she stuck out her tongue.
“I wouldn’t dare do something like that to you,” I said, making my voice low and romantic. Of course I wanted to say this stuff to her seriously, but just having fun was nice too.
When she looked away, blushing (much to my satisfaction), I noticed that creepy guy from earlier was standing by his car, watching us.
Of course that fucker drives a Mustang.
He was annoying as hell. But this could be an opportunity to show him who’s in charge around here…
“You want him to leave you alone?” I began.
She shrugged. “Well, yeah. I want everyone to leave me alone.”
“I have an idea…about that creep, at least.”
She brushed a stray hair from her face, and I reached for her hand. Then I brought it to my lips and kissed her fingers lightly.
I could feel her body stiffen, but she didn’t pull away.
“If you had a boyfriend…” I finally revealed. “Even a fake one would keep him away. If you really need help, it wouldn’t be too much trouble for me…”
Anika sighed and rolled her eyes with a dramatic flair that rivaled Shakespeare.
Then, slowly, she pulled her hand from mine.
“Thanks for your generosity, Brady,” she said, her signature sarcasm dripping from every word. “It’s a wonder a saint like you can stand living among us sinners.”
I ran my hand through my hair because I knew girls loved it when I did that. Not that I thought Anika could fall for such simple charms…but still, it was worth a try.
Leaning into her ear, I whispered, “So, is that a ‘yes?’”
“It’s not a yes!”
With that, she hiked her backpack up one last time and turned away.
This girl couldn’t even walk without having an attitude. But that’s what I liked about her.
“But it’s not a no, either!” I called after her.
“Bye, babe! Call me later!”
She turned around and glared at me, but hopefully, to Foster, it looked like she had to give me one last smile.
I blew her a kiss and turned back to Foster. Sure enough, the fucker was still watching us with his beady eyes.
I headed to my car, already picking the music I’d blast on the way home.
Hard rock. Perfect.
I was feeling good. School was done, my band was practicing later, and I might have just tricked the girl of my dreams into being my girlfriend.
Now that my plans were set, I tucked my phone into the apron at my waist. And then I got back to work.
“Oh, Anika, you spoil me!” Mr. Rodelio cried as I delivered an extra order of garlic bread to his table.
His eyes were closed beneath his huge white eyebrows, and his waxed mustache curled with his smile.
“It’s because you’re my favorite customer, Mr. Rodelio,” I said with a smile. “But don’t tell the others!”
He chuckled to himself as I whipped over to the soda machine to fill the drink orders for table ten.
It was true. Mr. Rodelio was my favorite of Papa’s Pizza’s many loyal customers. Since he lost his wife a few years ago, he came to the pizza parlor nearly every night.
He was always kind and loved telling me stories about his childhood in Italy.
And he tipped well.
“Just seated someone at nine for ya,” my boss, Tony, said gruffly behind me.
Sure, the guy sounded tough, but he was a big softy. He had owned the restaurant for twenty years, and he still liked to host so he could greet his adoring customers.
Tony had even installed an arcade at the back to encourage people to stick around after their meal.
I arranged the soda on a tray and peeked at the new arrival.
I nearly doused myself in Fanta when I saw him there, alone in his crisp, white button-down.
He gave me a smile that I didn’t return. I dropped off the sodas, took some orders, and finally delivered a menu to his table.
“It’s a bold move to wear a white shirt to this kinda joint,” I said with a wince. “We got a lot of red sauce here, you know.”
I paused for a minute, just looking at him. The guy was handsome. It was undeniable.
And it was intriguing how comfortable he was going out for dinner alone.
I mean, who DOES that?
“Well, what can I get you to drink?”
“Just a water,” he replied. “And I think I’m all ready to order. Just one question…what’s your favorite item on the menu?”
He gazed up at me politely, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small book.
When he placed it on the table, I saw it was a worn copy of Hamlet. I struggled not to roll my eyes.
Who IS this guy?
“Well, if you’re hungry, I’d get the lasagna. And we’re famous for our garlic bread.”
“The lasagna, then,” he responded, handing the menu back to me and never looking away. “Thanks, Anika.”
I nodded awkwardly before plugging his order into our system. Then I distracted myself with my normal tasks—refilling drinks, closing out checks, and charming Mr. Rodelio.
Since I had been working at Papa’s most nights since my mom and dad moved away a year ago, the place felt almost like a second home to me.
I wasn’t nervous anymore about forgetting orders or holding hot plates. I was good at my job and liked doing it.
Everything was going just fine until Foster’s lasagna was ready and I only had one other table of guests.
I knew this guy had come here to see me, and his plan seemed to be working out seamlessly. I felt nervous to be alone with him, but I couldn’t tell if the feeling was excitement or fear…
“Here’s your lasagna,” I said, delivering the huge portion to his table.
“Thank you,” he replied pleasantly. “I’m looking forward to trying your favorite. It looks delicious.”
“Trust me, it is,” I promised, and then, before he could say anything else, I said, “I’ll come check on you in a bit.”
I began folding napkins, cleaning tables, and doing my general end-of-night tasks.
I was perfectly happy keeping myself busy, so I wasn’t pleased when Tony sidled up and punched my arm.
“Why dontcha take a load off, Anika?” he asked with raised eyebrows. “We both know that guy is here to see you. Grab a tiramisu for ’im. I’ll finish up here.”
“No, it’s fine!” I blurted out, but Tony was persistent.
Sighing, I grabbed two forks and found that the kitchen had already put the tiramisu out for me at the delivery window.
When I slid into the booth across from Foster, he closed his book.
“Anything interesting happen?” I asked.
“Not as interesting as this,” he replied sincerely. “Though Hamlet just murdered Polonius.”
“It’s just the normal stuff…revenge, murder, undying loyalty…you know.”
He handed me a spoon and then gazed attentively at me, resting his head in his hand.
“Thanks for the tiramisu,” he said, “and the company.”
“Yeah, well, my boss insisted,” I replied, dismissing his affectionate gaze.
He nodded, and we both took a bite. The creamy, cake-y dessert was perfect. Any dessert that had coffee in it was my favorite.
“Do you often go out for dinner alone?” I asked, desperate to fill the silence.
“Once in a while,” he replied. “But I didn’t come here to be alone. I came here to see you.”
I gulped, twirling the spoon between my fingers. I figured it was true, but I wasn’t expecting him to just come out and say it.
When I looked up, he was looking at me like I was…whoever the chick in Hamlet was. Like I was a princess or something…even though I was a waitress wearing a Papa’s Pizza T-shirt.
“Remember how I said I wasn’t available earlier?” he asked, his voice soft.
“Um, yeah…” I replied. It was another one of his shockingly bold moves.
“Well, I meant I’m not available…because my heart belongs to you.”
I choked on my tiramisu.
What. The. Fuck?
“You just met me today,” I said with exasperation.
“No, we actually met a long time ago,” he went on. “And ever since that day, I haven’t stopped thinking about you.”
I dropped the spoon with a clatter. Foster and I had met before?!
“I don’t think we’ve met and—”
“It was on a fateful day in fifth grade,” he went on wistfully.
I could only think of one fateful day in fifth grade, and Foster had not been there.
My heart was racing, and I had to look away from him.
“You’re starting to freak me out,” I admitted.
Could Foster be the unknown number that had sent me that weird text?!
He took my hand, and the touch of his skin on mine sent a shock through my body.
“You don’t need to be scared,” he whispered. “Because I will always protect you.”
Okay. Now I was more than just a little freaked.
Electricity was coursing through me because of his touch, but I pulled my hand away. Foster was silent for a moment.
“Does that mean that you’re…unavailable?” he finally whispered.
Refusing to meet his gaze, I nodded. “I have a boyfriend.”
“What’s his name?” Foster whispered. There was no malice in his voice, only…pain.
Finally, I looked at Foster once more. The corners of his eyes were crinkled, and his mouth was open with wonder.
Nobody had ever looked at me with such pure love.
So I told him the one thing that I could think of that would make him leave me alone.
“My boyfriend is…Brady.”
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