CUTE CHRISTIAN BOYFRIEND? CHECK! Classes I need to take so I can get into my dream college? Check! Healthy relationship with God? Check! A place in my church’s choir? Check! Two best friends to share it all with? Check! Dirty family secrets safely hidden behind the picture-perfect façade I’ve built? Check!
Everything is exactly as it should be for a perfect senior year. Now, if only my best friend would pick up the pace. “If you walk any slower, we’re going to be late.” I glance back at Hannah. She’s shuffling her feet, doing everything in her power to avoid entering the massive brick building. We’re mere steps from the front entrance of Lakewood Valley High, and I’m seconds away from grabbing her collar and dragging her inside. I stop and tap my foot impatiently.
Hannah catches up to me. “Jeez, what is your problem this morning?”
“Nothing, I—” A revving motor cuts off my words, and I twist around to see what’s going on.
“Hey, watch out!” someone shouts.
A motorcycle zips past me so fast, I stumble backward and trip over Hannah’s feet. My scream blends with the backfire and turns into a cough as the breeze from the bike’s speed blows my hair into my mouth.
“Oh, my gosh! Isabelle, are you okay?” Hannah rests her hand on my arm, her eyes filled with concern.
My heart races. Adrenaline spikes through my veins. Getting run over is not how I want to start my senior year. I take a deep breath. “Yeah, I think so.” I take a quick mental inventory of all my limbs—nothing feels broken. I glance down at my body—nothing is bleeding. “I’m fine,” I say to reassure us both.
The motorcycle comes to a stop near the bike rack. The rider, dressed in all black from his leather jacket to his boots, swings a long leg over the seat, removes his helmet, and hangs it from the handlebar. Then, as if he’s the star of some cheesy romcom, he shakes his head, and his dark hair falls across his forehead like it was grown just for this moment. He drags his hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face. Green eyes, as rich and lush as fresh cut grass, peek out at the crowd forming around him.
He’s tall, almost six feet I would guess, muscular, and hotter than any guy this school has ever seen. Is he a student? He’s in the student parking lot and wearing a backpack, so I assume he’s a student, but he could easily pass for a first-year teacher. Hannah’s hand tightens around my arm. “Whoa,” she says—half whisper, half moan.
My thoughts exactly. But I don’t care how attractive he is—he nearly ran me over. He isn’t going to get away with it. I march up to him. “You’re not allowed to park there.”
He turns toward me, his gaze rolling down the length of my body. I stand perfectly still, despite the frantic racing of my heart.
He raises a single brow and points to the sign above the bike rack. “According to that, this is exactly where I’m supposed to park.” His voice is deep and smooth.
“That’s for bicycles. Not motorcycles.” I cross my arms, but the shudder I’m trying to suppress breaks free anyway, and my body trembles. He’s barely said a dozen words, but each one is spoken as if he’s stroking velvet—his voice simultaneously grating and satisfying.
“Are you the parking police?” he asks.
“No, I’m the girl you almost ran over.”
A hint of a smile tugs at his lips. “Most people move out of the way when they hear a vehicle coming.”
I grit my teeth. “Most people don’t drive on the sidewalk.”
He takes a few steps toward me, and my heart attempts a violent prison break from my ribcage. And then he smiles—a full blown, bright-white, teeth-showing, dimple-laden smile. “Guess we both learned something new today, huh?”
Who does this guy think he is? He can’t run me over and then expect me to fall for his charm and perfect smile. This isn’t one of the romcoms I love to watch. Before I can formulate a response, he turns and walks away. What just happened? Did I imagine my near-death experience? All around me, students are talking and laughing and filing into the building as if some hottie on a motorcycle didn’t just about mow me down. Hannah’s the only person who seems to even know I exist.
With a sigh, I head back to my friend. “Can you believe him?” My tone is full of indignation.
“Was he flirting with you?”
“What? No.” I shake my head.
“It looked like he was flirting with you.”
I roll my eyes. “He wasn’t flirting.” Was he? “Even if he was, it doesn’t matter. I’m dating Cam, remember?”
“Mm-hmm,” she hums with total disbelief. “It’s a shame. Biker Boy is hot.” As we meander toward the main entrance, Hannah loops her arm through mine. “Did he apologize at least?”
I frown. “No.”
Inside, the buzz of excitement surrounding a new school year fills the halls. I can’t seem to get into the spirit, though. For the first time in my life, I’m on my own. Hannah’s the absolute best friend I could ever have, but she isn’t a Carson. There are things even best friends don’t know about each other, things that take a literal lifetime to learn. Grief presses in on me, but I refuse to let it crush me. Not here. Not now.
It’s a fight I can’t win, not when everything reminds me of him. Every face I see is a memory of life before, life with him. Deep down, I know they’re all looking at me, judging me, trying to figure out if I’m okay, and deciding I’m not. Poor Isabelle. How could they think anything else? My steps slow as the weight of it all settles heavy on my heart. How can I do this without him?
“There you are.” Cam squeezes between me and Hannah and drapes his arm around my shoulders. “I thought you were going to wait for me in the student parking lot.”
Shoot. “Yeah, sorry.”
“You’re forgiven. But don’t forget about me again, okay?” His tone is playful, but he can’t disguise his hurt feelings. At least he doesn’t ask how I’m doing. I’m tired of hearing that question and even more tired of answering with lies and fake smiles.
“It’s not her fault,” Hannah says. “She was almost run over.”
“What?” Cam says a little too loudly. He takes my hand and pulls me out of the crowd so we’re standing near a wall of lockers. “You were almost run over? Like, by a car?”
I shoot Hannah a why-did-you-have-to-say-anything look. Cam is a notorious worrier. Anytime anything upsets me, he morphs into hyper-attentive mode. We’ve been dating for almost ten months. The past four months have been rough, to say the least, but things are settling down. He’s finally starting to trust me when I say I’m okay, even if I don’t trust myself.
“No, a motorcycle,” Hannah answers for me.
“It’s no big deal. I’m fine, okay?” I squeeze Cam’s hand and smile reassuringly.
“Are you sure?” He studies me as if he doesn’t believe me. His dark brown eyes narrow, and his lips purse in concentration.
“Yes.” I nod and smile even harder. If I can convince people I’m not drowning in grief, then I should be able to convince Cam the incident with the motorcycle didn’t rattle me.
“Oh, goody. It’s the Jesus freak and her friends,” Brittany LaCroix says in a sing song voice. “Move. You’re in my way.” I scowl, ready to say something equally snarky, but Cam pulls me away.
“Don’t,” he warns. “Pray for her. She needs it.” He says the last part loud enough for Brittany to hear, and she sticks her tongue out at him.
I heave out a frustrated breath. Cam’s the pastor’s son, and he does his earthly father—and our heavenly Father—proud every day with his grace and forgiveness. Me? I’m working to be as good as Cam, but some days are harder than others. Thankfully, God put Cam in my life to help me on my path. But Cam has no idea how awful Brit truly is, or how she single-handedly ruined my life. If he did, he wouldn’t constantly tell me to let it go.
Cam rests his hands on my shoulders and bends his knees slightly so he can peer into my eyes. “Don’t let her get to you. You’re above that.”
“Good. I’ll see you in chorus, right?”
I nod again. He stares a moment longer, and then he leaves. Normally, I love it when Cam looks at me like that, with concern and adoration, but this morning, it’s unsettling. Nothing feels right this morning.
When Cam’s out of earshot, I turn to Hannah. “Did you have to tell him?”
She side-eyes me. “What’s the big deal?”
“You know how he worries.”
“Yeah, but you can’t lie to him. He’s going to find out eventually.” She turns the corner and maneuvers through the crowded senior hallway that’s adorned with flyers and motivational posters and reminders to “make the most of your last year.”
Ugly green lockers line both walls, and my steps falter as I pass the locker decorated with flowers, posters, and ribbons that match our school colors. Behind the metal door is a haphazard, overflowing collection of stuffed animals and letters and pictures—a veritable shrine to a fallen student. Brandon Carson. My brother. I swallow the urge to cry and struggle to keep up with Hannah.
“Keeping it a secret isn’t lying,” I call after her.
“It’s just as bad,” she calls over her shoulder. I grumble under my breath. She’s right. Lying and keeping secrets is never a good thing. My parents are living proof. I won’t turn out like them, too afraid of reality to address it. Maybe that’s why I got so mad at the motorcycle maniac. It wasn’t my responsibility to move out of his way. It was his responsibility to follow the rules of the road, to drive safely, to make sure he didn’t harm anyone. What if he does something like that again and actually hurts someone? Could I live with the knowledge that I knew what he was capable of and did nothing? He needs to be stopped. And I’m going to be the one to stop him