“She took all the money, Luke.”
I blow out a breath, my cheeks puffing with the force of it. “And it’s all gone?” I ask hesitantly.
“She used the money to pay for an in-ground pool in her house that my dad paid for, to be enjoyed by her new husband and his kids.”
My fists ball, but I keep my anger in check. For her. “And she wanted to what? Rub it in your face?”
“Not mine,” she says, her voice a whisper. “Dad’s.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “I hate her.”
I reach over and cover her hand with mine. “So what does that mean?”
“I don’t get to go to college.”
“I fucking hate her,” I repeat, my heart pounding.
She says, again, “Me too.”
After moments of silence, I ask, “Are you going to tell your dad?”
I’m holding her hand now, my fingers laced through hers, my grip tight.
She adds, staring down at our joined hands, “Dad’s just so happy at the moment with Misty and everything, and I don’t want to crush his spirit.”
“And break his heart,” I murmur.
“My mom’s already done that.”
My eyes meet hers, her frown causing my own.
“We’ll still see each other, right?” she asks. “When you come home for holidays?”
“It won’t be the same,” I tell her.
She sighs. Then a slight smile breaks through. “I’m going to miss seeing your ugly face every day.”
“Shut up. You love my face.”
Her eyes roll. “Yeah, it’s like looking into the sun.”
“So beautiful it hurts?” I ask, unable to contain my smirk.
“You like me,” I tease.
“I tolerate you,” she retorts.
I inhale deeply, my smirk fading. There’s a shift in the air—thick and overwhelming. “So we only have a year,” I murmur. I lean in closer, so close my breath fogs her glasses. Her eyes drift shut the moment my lips find her temple.
She’s too much.
“I’m sorry, Lane,” I whisper. “About UNC. About your mom. I should’ve been there for you, just like you’ve always been there for me.”
PAST | LOIS
I felt the sincerity in the Preston boys’ declaration to be part of their family, and I carried that with me through the following months. I’d gotten even closer to Lucas and became friends with Leo and Logan because we attended the same school. I even attempted to make friends with Dumb Name so Luke didn’t feel like he had to split his time between us.
When Kathy announced that she was pregnant (again), I was there, sitting between Luke and Leo on the couch with the rest of the Preston kids scattered around the living room. I squealed and wrapped my arms around Kathy and Tom.
Later that day, while Luke pushed me around the merry-go-round at the playground, he teased me about my reaction. “It’s exciting!” I giggled. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Not really,” he said, using both hands to push the bars, his legs moving quicker, spinning me faster. “It’s my fourth pregnancy announcement. Fifth baby. I was kind of expecting it.” Then he jumped on while it was still moving and sat down next to me, his gaze on the sky, my gaze on him.
“Your parents must have a lot of—”
“Shut up!” he shouted, his hand quick to cover my mouth, muffling my final word.
I smiled against his palm, and he must’ve felt it because he smiled back. Then suddenly, he leaned forward, his lips puckered. He kissed the back of his hand—the hand covering my mouth. When he pulled back, his eyes were huge. He dropped his hand quickly and looked away. I touched my lips and wondered what it would feel like to have him kiss me. If it felt anything like I felt then, it was going to blow my mind. I lay on my back, looking up at the dull gray sky, and even though the merry-go-round had lost its momentum and was barely moving, my mind was spinning and the world had never seemed so bright.
When I got home, I hugged my dad like I’d never hugged him before. “What’s this?” he asked, hands on my shoulders when I finally let him go.
“I just love you.”
“And I love it here. Thank you for finding this place.”
His beard shifted, revealing his smile. “So you’re happy here?”
I nodded. “The happiest.”
It was all true. Meeting the Prestons, spending time with Kathy, meeting Lucas, it changed my outlook, my life.
I felt worthy.
I finally felt like I was enough.
Especially when baby Lachlan was born and Kathy asked me to be his godmother. There was no official ceremony, but the title stood.
I remember sitting at my desk and writing a letter to my mom—a letter I would never send. It told her that I loved my life. That I loved my new home. That I loved my decision to leave with Dad. And that I was happy and I was loved.
Then one day, it all crumbled—my world, my heart—the moment Dad sat me down and told me Kathy had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember looking up at the ceiling, at the bright, white light hanging in the center of my room while my head spun, and spun, and spun some more. The walls closed in, the air thick in my lungs as I tried to wrap my mind around what it would mean. Not just for her, but for her seven children. And then I thought about Luke, about the boy who offered me friendship when I had no one and nothing. I stood quickly, my heart racing. “Lucas,” I whispered.
“Lucas is fine, Lois.”
“No.” I shook my head. “I need to see him.”
“You’ll see him at school.”
“No! I need to see him now, Dad!”
“Honey,” he said, reaching out and taking my hand. I yanked it back and ran for the door. I kept running until my lungs burned, until my legs felt like jelly, all the way to the Preston house. Logan answered the door, his cheeks splotchy. I couldn’t get a word out through the tiny spurts of breath I was struggling to get through, but I didn’t need words. Logan fell into my arms, his sobs muffled by my hoodie. “It’s okay,” I whispered, stroking the back of his head. “It’s going to be okay.”