Rolling over in my bed, I looked at the clock. It was only five-thirty in the morning.
I still had forty-five minutes before my alarm would go off and wake me for the first day of my senior year of high school. The last first day of high school ever.
If my parents had been smart, they would have started me early, and I would have graduated last year and been off to college after turning eighteen three weeks ago.
Although, they could never know that I was planning on going to college. It wasn’t in their plans for me.
A wedding straight after graduation to Snake—who I didn’t even like as more than a friend, let alone love—that was their plan.
Chloe’s soft snoring filled the room. Our trailer was only two bedrooms, and we’d been sharing a room since she was born three years after me.
She turned fifteen soon and started her freshman year of high school today. She was nervous, but she didn’t need to be. She had friends her age. Sassy, my best friend, had a brother in her year.
Instead of lying awake in my bed for the next forty-five minutes, I took advantage of the alone time and privacy.
I hardly ever got that. It was difficult when you shared a two-bedroom, one bathroom, double-wide trailer with your parents and younger sister.
The kitchen was small, and so was the living room. And even if it ’hadn’t been, it was always full of my dad’s associates. By associates, I meant members of the Southside Gang.
I fucking hated it.
Thankfully, Chloe was a sound sleeper. Leaning over the bed, I reached under the mattress, pulled out the stack of college brochures, and went through them.
I only had a limited amount of money to send my applications in. Who the hell knew just applying for college cost so much money? I’d have to narrow my list of six to three.
The one thing all the colleges had in common was they were thousands of miles from my house.
I hated it here. I hated my parents, I hated Carver High School, and I hated Lake City, California. Most people dreamed of coming to California.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad place to live; it was gorgeous, the weather was nice, and the town was nestled between the mountains and the ocean perfectly.
The problem was the fucking politics of the town and that my dad was one of the biggest criminals in the place. Not one of. He was the biggest, at least according to Sheriff Roberts.
But it was because of that I needed to get the fuck out. I didn’t want this to be my life.
I wanted more than a marriage to Snake, a life of wondering if he’d be arrested, and more than that, I wanted freedom and love. I couldn’t have freedom here, and I certainly couldn’t have love.
Snake would be the only one to ever attempt to date me. Sure, I’d fucked around with a bunch of guys, but nobody wanted to really be with me. They were scared of what my dad would do if he found out.
Sitting up, I sat cross-legged on my bed and looked down at the brochures. With my grades, I had a pretty good chance at getting a scholarship.
All the schools were on the East Coast: Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York. Dartmouth was in New Hampshire and was my reach school.
I definitely had a shot, but I’d read that they didn’t do merit scholarships, only financial ones. I’d be applying for one. Despite my situation, it didn’t seem worth it to take out a bunch of student loans.
Grabbing my phone, I pulled up a few tabs and searched for scholarships that I could apply for that weren’t dependent on what school I went to.
Three schools, I thought to myself.
Chloe stirred, rolling over in her bed. She and Sassy were the only ones I felt bad for. Chloe was my sister by blood, and Sassy may not have been blood, but she was as good as my sister.
I’d been lying to both of them since I was twelve, and I finally figured out that the only thing I wanted in life was to get the fuck out of this town.
But I couldn’t tell them. I’d break both their hearts by sneaking away in the middle of the night, taking my beat-up car and everything I had, and slipping out of the town.
I’d be halfway to Utah before anybody even realized I was gone. And by the time they did, I could be anywhere, halfway down the California coast to Mexico, halfway up the coast toward Washington.
Definitely Dartmouth, I thought to myself. East Carolina University wasn’t somewhere I actually wanted to go, but with my grades, I was basically a guaranteed entry.
I needed one of those. I couldn’t risk not getting in anywhere and having the plans I’d worked so hard for the last eight years just vanish.
Where else did I really want to go? Virginia seemed like a nice place to live. It seemed similar to California, having both mountains and ocean.
Grabbing my phone again, I googled Richmond, Charlottesville, and Blacksburg.
After reading about the size, population, nature, and location of the cities, I decided that the University of Richmond was my best bet.
Richmond was a decent-sized city with a small-town feel. Cary Street looked so cute, and the museum of fine arts looked like a great place to study.
It was only two hours from the beach and two hours from the mountains and close to Washington DC.
I planned on applying for early admission to all of them and making sure that I only received electronic correspondence.
The last thing I needed would be an acceptance or rejection letter coming through the regular mail.
Suddenly, the phone in my hand blasted my alarm, catching me completely off guard. I sent the papers for college scattering everywhere.
Quickly, I picked them up and shoved the back under my mattress, hoping it would take Chloe a few minutes to fully wake up.
Turning the alarm off, I glanced over at my sister. She was still dead asleep.
“Chloe,” I said, climbing out of bed and walking the short distance to her. “Chloe,” I said again, louder this time.
“Yeah?” She asked groggily, turning her body away from me.
“We’ve got school today. You need to wake up.”
“Mmkay,” she mumbled.
Grabbing my towel off the back of the door, I walked to the bathroom and showered quickly.
Long showers were not allowed in this house. My mom would lose her shit if she didn’t have any hot water left, and she was always the last to shower.
Dad took showers at night, but Chloe and I both needed them before school.
Quickly, I washed my body, scrubbing from head to toe while avoiding getting my hair wet. Once I was done, I turned the water to cold, rinsing with cold water.
It was shit, but it was better than dealing with my mother’s potential wrath.
Shivering, I turned the water off and stepped out. Wrapping the towel tightly around myself, I walked back across the hall to my shared bedroom.
“Chloe,” I shouted at her this time. “Get your ass up. If you want a ride to school, we need to leave at seven-fifteen. You’ve got less than an hour.”
“Okay, okay,” she grumbled before finally climbing out of bed.
When she was gone, I dropped my towel and searched through our closet for something to wear. Not that I really had a choice.
Our school had a uniform. It was either khaki pants, plaid skirt, or khaki skirt and a white, blue, or cream-colored blouse. The boys had to wear ties. Girls could, but it wasn’t mandatory.
Usually, I worked one loosely around my neck because I liked how it looked. It was still warm out, so I opted for a short plaid skirt and a white button-down.
I pulled on short socks and a pair of old worn Converse. I desperately needed new shoes, but there wasn’t any money for them.
I worked part time during the summer at the movie theater a few towns over, not wanting to work in Lake City. But every penny I made needed to be saved for my escape.
My parents didn’t have any money. Running a gang wasn’t exactly a lucrative business. At least not the way my dad did it.
I was standing in front of the full-length mirror situated in the corner next to my bed, combing my light brown hair.
I’d curled it a few days ago, and today would definitely be the last day I could pull off the ringlets, but that was fine. I’d wear it up tomorrow and then wash it the next day.
I applied some mascara, grabbed the bag I’d packed the night before, tossed my phone into it, and headed to the kitchen.
Chloe was coming out of the bathroom as I was passing. “Can you make me something for breakfast too?” she asked.
“Sure,” I told her. I had a hard time telling her no.
My parents were still asleep, so I quietly tiptoed past their room into the kitchen. I grabbed four pieces of bread and put them in the toaster.
Quickly, I cracked four eggs, whipped them, and sprinkled some cheese in them before tossing the bowl in the microwave for ninety seconds.
It was so much easier than trying to scramble eggs in a frying pan on a busy morning before school. While that was cooking and the bread was toasting, I cut up an avocado and sliced some tomatoes.
When the bread popped up, I slathered all four slices with mayonnaise and layered avocado and tomato on before cracking black pepper and sprinkling salt on it.
Next, I divided the cooked eggs onto the bread, smashed the pieces together, and cut them. I set each one on a paper plate and grabbed two apples.
“Buck texted me,” Chloe said when she emerged from our room. Buck was Sassy’s little brother.
“Sassy said he had to ride the bus since she did when she was a freshman, and he wants me to ride with him.”
“That’s fine,” I told her.
“Thanks for breakfast,” she said.
“No problem, but tomorrow you’ve got first shower and breakfast duty.”
“Good thing you like pop tarts,” she said.
Rolling my eyes at her, I grabbed my breakfast sandwich, the coffee I’d made, and my apple and left the trailer, careful to not let the door slam shut behind me.
Sassy was already waiting by my car. Snake would be taking his motorcycle to school for as long as he could, and then he’d take his own car.
“Not riding with Snake?” I asked her.
“Not on that death trap. He drives like a maniac.”
I snorted. He was nearly eighteen and thought he was invincible.
Teenage boys are so fucking dumb.
“You should ride with him,” I told her as I unlocked my car. “He drives safer when you’re with him.”
Some emotion I couldn’t place flash crossed her face, but I ignored it. If she wanted to talk about it, she would.
“You know,” she said, “if you’d let me burn the school to the ground at the end of last year, we wouldn’t have to go.”
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that,” I told her.
She just shrugged.
Her comment about burning down the school came up at least weekly, sometimes twice a week. I’m surprised Snake and her hadn’t actually done it yet.
It would be a miracle if they got through this year without getting expelled.
Somehow, Snake always convinced Sassy to do the dumbest shit that would not only get her expelled but also land her in jail.
He had protection from jail because of who his dad was, but Sassy didn’t have that. Her dad had died a few years ago, and her mom wanted nothing to do with the gang, leaving her unprotected.
I’d protect Sassy with my life, and Snake would too, but that courtesy wasn’t extended by my father or his.
Honestly, it could very well have been my dad who killed her dad. We didn’t talk about it, but I knew we both thought it.
The circumstances surrounding his death had been suspicious. He’d been working on a car in the shop when it had fallen on him, crushing and killing him.
The investigation had concluded that it wasn’t an operator error for the lift machine and that it hadn’t malfunctioned.
Foul play couldn’t be ruled out, but it also couldn’t be proven. It was still an open investigation.
I could never figure out what the motivation was. Hound, Sassy’s dad, hadn’t been a ranking member of the gang.
If it had been betrayal, everyone would have known, and my dad would have proudly and with honor announced that he had been the one to do it.
But since he hadn’t done that, the motivation must have been something different.
“One more year, and we’re out of this shithole school,” she said.
Sassy wanted to go open her own full-service salon—hair, nails, massages, facials. She wouldn’t be leaving. She also assumed I wouldn’t be leaving.
She only thought the school was a shithole. My feelings extended to the whole of Lake City.
I turned the radio on and ate my sandwich, not in the mood to talk while we drove. When we pulled into the back parking lot, it was already full.
Everyone had a leather jacket on, and half of them had a dragon on it, the symbol for the Southside Gang. It was fire red mixed with green.
Snake was leaning against his bike, his flavor of the week on his arm.
Although he and I were expected to be together and make lots of future gang member babies, it didn’t bother me at all that he fucked anything that moved and gave him the slightest bit of attention.
I didn’t want him. Never had, not like that anyway.
“Ready?” I asked Sassy.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Every single one of the kids we walked up to lived on the same side of town we did. I’d seen them all summer long, so there was no need to exchange fake “how was your summer” conversation.
I sent up a small thank you for that because I hated small talk.
“What’s up, Haley?” Snake asked, tightening his arm around Bridgette, the petite blonde who was a year behind us.
“Same old fucking same,” I said with a shrug.
Sassy handed me a cigarette and lighter. I lit it and inhaled, trying not to go too deep. I hated cigarettes, the taste, the smell, but I had to look the part.
I also only smoked around my friends. Sassy smoked too, keeping her eyes on Snake. I had finally fucking figured it out halfway through junior year.
My best friend was in love with Snake. I didn’t get it, didn’t understand the attraction. He was probably the reason she was still a virgin, never taking anyone up on the countless offers to bed her.
What I did understand was why she didn’t talk to me about it. She knew I didn’t want him like that, but she also knew what our fathers were expecting of us like it was some medieval times bullshit.
I didn’t understand why Snake couldn’t just take over the gang and pick whoever he wanted to have his little snake babies.
It wasn’t my fault that my dad had never had a son and didn’t have someone to take over.
It was all fucking bullshit.
Thank God I had no intention of ever letting it happen.
After I finished my cigarette, I flicked it to the ground and stomped on it, pissing myself off in the process.
I wanted to pick it up and put it in the trash can, but even that small action would open up a can of worms I didn’t need opened.
Sassy and I left everyone else standing there and headed for the school’s back doors. As soon as we started down the hall, Will fucking Roberts came right toward us.
His blond hair was shaggier than it had ever been, looking like he hadn’t cut it all summer.
He looked cute.
I pushed the errant thought from my mind.
“Winters.” He spat my last name.
I didn’t even understand why he felt the need to address me.
“Wade?” I said, tilting my head to the side. I wouldn’t give him the pleasure of calling him by the name I’d known since I was five.
He rolled his eyes at me.
He was walking slightly in front of all his friends. They all looked the exact same, but I guess that was to be expected, given we all had to wear uniforms.
They all had the same shaggy hairstyle in varying shades of brown and blond, the same dull eyes that looked like they held no knowledge of the world that existed beyond the four walls of Carver High School.
They probably didn’t even know that it was called Carver High school for the man who founded the town and that it wasn’t named Lake City High for that reason.
He’d stopped, him and his friends trying to block mine and Sassy’s path. I stood there, examining my nails, refusing to look up into his crystal-blue eyes and pretending I was bored.
“How many times did Daddy get arrested this summer?” he asked.
I glanced at Sassy and shrugged my shoulders. “Just once,” I said, tilting my head again. “But it cost your daddy two black eyes,” I said.
Of course, Dad didn’t fucking go quietly or peacefully. Will’s dad couldn’t have been stupid; he must know why whenever my dad got arrested, he was released less than an hour later.
“Bitch,” he spat at me.
He took a menacing step closer, his body towering over mine even though I was taller than average for a girl.
I looked up at him, giving him my best fuck you face because he sure as fuck didn’t intimidate me. The only good thing my dad had ever done for me was teach me how to defend myself.
“A bitch is a female dog,” I said, continuing to make my voice sound bored. “Or something a man with a small dick calls a woman to make himself feel powerful.”
I watched Will’s face turn red in anger and heard Sassy chuckle next to me. Glancing down at the front of his pants, I shrugged. “Tiiinnnnyyyyyy,” I said, making my voice high and squeaky.
Before he could say anything else, I brushed by him, making my shoulder bump into him.
I ignored the tingles that spread out where my body had come into contact with him.
It was just a physical reaction; it didn’t mean anything. It was also a stupid one.
Sassy and I walked to our lockers. Carver High school was so small that freshman year, we got to pick our lockers, and those had remained our lockers for the past four years.
The class of seniors that graduated last year had abandoned lockers, and the incoming freshman would get to choose from them.
“He’s a tool, just like his dad,” Sassy said when we were standing next to our lockers.
I just snorted out a response.
“What do you have first block, again?” she asked.
“I have a free period,” I replied.
“Why did you come in so early?” she asked. She didn’t give me time to answer. “I’ve got statistics.”
“I probably won’t see you until lunch,” I told her, not answering her question.
“I’ll save you a seat.”
With that, I was off to first period, which also doubled as homeroom, where our attendance for the day was taken. Each teacher took it, but this was the one that counted us as tardy for the day or not.
Since I had a free period, I walked to the office to sign in.
Technically, since I was a senior, I didn’t have to come in early, but I’d been planning on taking Chloe, and I liked having time to myself in the library.
My day passed relatively easily. I had creative writing first thing in the morning after my free period, followed by AP Chemistry, then AP statistics. After that I had lunch.
Sassy saved me a seat like she said she would. I waited until the line was almost completely gone before going to buy a sandwich and a bag of chips.
Will was sitting at his usual table in the front of the cafeteria, surrounded by his friends. He had his arm wrapped around Mackenzie.
They must have gotten back together over the summer. Last I heard, he’d broken up with her right before the end of junior year because he was spending the summer at his grandparent’s lake house.
Not that it mattered.
I was dipping my chips in ketchup—yes, I said what I said—and listening to Snake and Sassy talk about school, how stupid their classes were.
If Snake wasn’t careful, he might not even graduate. But that probably wouldn’t bother him, and it would in no way affect his job prospects. His job was set.
When I’d finished my lunch, we still had about ten minutes left. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” I said.
Sassy didn’t even look up at me. She was staring at Snake, but she waved me off.
While I was walking to the bathroom on the first floor, I rounded the corner tightly and walked straight into a chest.
“Sorry,” I said before looking up and realizing who I’d bumped into. But the way my body tingled, I should have known anyway.
“Winters,” he said gruffly. His tone was always just a little bit softer when he wasn’t around his friends.
“Watch where you’re going,” I said in annoyance. It had probably actually been my fault, but I was definitely going to give him the blame.
“Me?” he asked in annoyance.
“Yes,” I snapped. “You’re supposed to walk on the right side of the hall. Just like you drive that shiny truck of yours on the right side of the road.”
“You paying attention to what I drive, Winters?” He asked.
“Fuck you,” I said, brushing past him again.
Before I could get far, he grabbed my wrist and hauled me back. There was nobody in the hall and no way we could be seen from the cafeteria, not with the way the wall and door were structured.
“Careful, Winters,” he said huskily in my ear. “One of these days, I may just take you up on that offer.”
Heat flooded my core, but I didn’t let him see the reaction. Pulling my hand away, I turned around and pushed him roughly back into the door.
“You fucking wish, Roberts,” I said before turning on my heel and walking to the bathroom.
Once I got there, I let out a shaky breath, my hands braced on the sink. Looking up at my reflection, I saw my cheeks were flushed.
I hated him.
He was the biggest fucking douche in the school, probably the state and the country too. But my body continued to react to him, momentarily forgetting that I was repulsed by his mere existence.
After my breathing had finally returned to normal, I slipped inside a stall. Once I was done, I washed my hands before splashing cold water onto my face.
As I walked back into the cafeteria, I felt eyes on me. I didn’t need to look to know they were Will’s.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. I had AP English, AP Spanish, and finally AP Calculus.
I thought I’d gotten lucky and not had a single class with Will, but God didn’t look down on me with that much favor.
As soon as Ms. Smalls, the calculus teacher, walked into the classroom, Will walked in right after her and took a seat in the middle of the classroom.
That was his typical seat, making sure he was the center of attention.
I’d have to spend the last hour of my school day looking at the back of his head and listening to his ridiculous voice and obnoxious ways.
I paid little attention while Ms. Smalls passed out the syllabus and went over what we would be learning during the semester. It was the same as every class I’d had that day.
Finally, at three-thirty, the bell rang, and we were free for the day.
“You’re in an AP class?” Will snorted when he finally noticed me.
“Yup,” I said, attempting to give him as little attention as possible
Part of me wanted to tell him I was actually in five. Plus, creative writing was only a class you could take if you were in AP English. So really, it was like six.
But he didn’t need to know that. There was no reason to tell him.
“I’ll tutor you if you need to,” he said.
“And make sure I fail? I’ll pass.”
Before he could say anything else, Mackenzie came up to him and wrapped her arms around his middle. His eyes held mine while he leaned down and kissed her.
I flipped him the bird before turning and heading toward my locker so I could take Sassy and myself home.
I fucking hated him.
And nothing would ever change that.