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“You’ve got your own business now, Boyce.”
Maybe I should have been a little pissed that she looked surprised, but I wanted to beat my chest. That’s right—I run my own business. I am The Man. In Pearl’s defense, she wasn’t the only one to be dumbfounded. I’d worked on my high school principal’s SUV last week—not only fixed it quick, but fixed it cheap. When Ingram came in, she was gushing oil like a West Texas rig—left a line of it straight up the driveway and thought the whole engine was about to fall out. I told her that unless she’d been driving off-road or slamming over curbs like a bat outta hell, that scenario was improbable. I think she expected me to gouge her in revenge for what a bitch she’d been in high school, but I stopped giving a crap about her the day I took that diploma from her hand. A fifty-dollar part and one hour of labor and she was on her way.
“That’s really cool.” Pearl rinsed her bottle before dropping it into the bin. “Here I am, still playing the what do I want to be when I grow up game, and you’ve got it all figured out—a career, a place of your own. Independence.”
“Jesus, Pearl—you’re shittin’ me, right? You could do anything. Fixing cars is what I do—all I can do. And yeah, I’m lucky that it’s also what I want to do. But you’ve got the world in front of you and the brains to do whatever you want. To make a difference in the world. Don’t go acting like you should have it all figured out by now just because I narrowed down to the one and only thing I’m capable of doing without fucking it up.”
She blinked at me. “You don’t think I’m possibly screwing up, quitting med school?”
I grinned. “Lemme pass on a little Boyce Wynn wisdom. You can’t quit if you don’t start.”
She laughed. “That’s what I tried to convince Mel and Mama of. They weren’t having it.”
“Melody gave you crap? Your mama’s one thing, but I thought Dover was your best friend.”
If Maxfield had quit college one semester in, or moved home after graduation and said he wanted to work on his dad’s boat instead of going after the work he’d trained to do, I wouldn’t have given him any shit about it. Having each other’s back is the foundation of any friendship. If your foundation is shit, your friendship is shit.
“Yeah, a bit. She was just alarmed, I think—afraid it was an impulsive decision. I never told her I was considering not going. In her mind—and everyone else’s—me heading for med school and ultimately becoming a surgeon was never in question. It was just… presumed.”
“You told me and not Dover?” Interesting.
“When I got accepted at the institute, yeah, you were the only one I told. Maybe because I knew you’d see right through me. You could see I wasn’t going to follow through because I was a coward.”
“It’s okay. It was true. I was afraid of what people would think or say, afraid of disappointing Mama and Thomas and anyone who’s ever had a hand in my education. I guess I still am. But it’s my life. My choice.”
“Damn right.” I literally clamped my jaw shut to keep from asking her if her choice could include a night in my bed. One more night to try to cure this never-ending ache, though I knew—and I’d known for years—I’d never get over her.
As if I’d broadcast that thought into the room, she set her half-full bottle on the counter and said, “I’ll see you Saturday then?”
The words hung between us, thick and unsaid: Dare you, Pearl. “I close up at three on Saturday, but I’ll have some end-of-week bookkeeping to do, and I’ll need to clean up. Get Dad ready.”
She rolled her eyes and laughed, and I pulled her into a hug for another round of self-torture.
As I backed down the driveway, Boyce watched me from the top step of his trailer, both hands tucked into his front pockets. The tarnished porch lamp mounted next to the door left his face in shadow but shed a weak blue light over his shoulder, accentuating the shadowed lines of muscle along his arm—biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, triceps brachii, extensor carpi radialis and digitorum… I wanted to trace each one with my fingers, skimming the rock-hard curves and the valleys between them.
Back home less than two weeks and my long-concealed addiction had returned full throttle. I’d been so sure that college would abolish it—the two-hundred-mile separation, the thousands of guys on campus (there’d only been seventy-something boys in my entire high school), the parties and rushing and pledging, and last but not least the pressure that came with attending an academically distinguished university.
With my course load and sorority obligations, I hadn’t had much time to date, so I’d only had two official relationships: freshman year, lasting a whopping six weeks, with a frat douche named Geoffrey who had no clue what the title of “boyfriend” actually entailed, and two years later, Mitchell. Between them there were a series of standard hookups and almost-but-not-quites, most of those encounters so clumsy and unsatisfying that they were happily forgotten.
In four years, nothing had erased or even dimmed my memories of Boyce. His kiss. His touch. The disorienting intensity of his gaze. I was a different person now, and so was he, but apparently those transformations didn’t matter to this thing I felt. For my heart, he was a grounding wire, the needle of a compass, a gravitational pull.
For him, in high school, I’d been no more than a fixation, a conquest to be won. Before that, who knows? An obligation, perhaps—some odd sort of debt incurred the moment he’d saved my life. As I turned the corner at the end of his street, I glanced in the rearview mirror where he was still framed, half-eclipsed by the dark, a motionless silhouette.
My introverted psyche had always preferred to leave the acting out to others, so that on the surface I seemed to be the proverbial good girl. Focused and guarded. The soul of discretion and the mind of rationality, head to toe. But I had a secret center, and my flashes of rebellion were internal. My heart—carefully concealed and never worn on my sleeve or any other visible place—turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to reason. It craved what it wanted, and for years, it wanted one thing against all better judgment: Boyce Wynn.
The moment I resolved to give in to those inner desires took place in the middle of my high school graduation ceremony. Talk about never seeing something coming.