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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 5

Hot Guy in My Bedroom


Twenty-­three years ago

I should have been finishing my trigonometry homework or at least showering after softball practice. But to be fair, I hated math, and I didn’t allow myself to shower until I’d finished my homework. So really my only option was to take a book break.

There was a tiny possibility that my frustrations might have been motivated by the fact that I was exactly one chapter away from the really good stuff in my pilfered copy of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s Shanna.

It was my third reread of Mom’s tattered paperback, and I was besotted with the mercurial Ruark Beauchamp. Even though his—­and Shanna’s—­behavior would totally have been problematic in real life, I still liked the underlying idea that a secret torrid affair could somehow provide a safe space where you could be yourself.

I climbed onto the window seat cushion and built a mound of pillows behind me. A whiff of armpit caught me. I winced and shoved the middle window open to let in the fresh spring air. My team was on track to make the district playoffs this year, and the coaches pushed us harder every practice. I wanted it. It was all part of Sloane’s Awesome Life Plan, which I was fully dedicated to. But right now, all I wanted to do was lose myself in a sexy Caribbean love story. In seconds, concerns about my dried sweat and lame homework disappeared, and I was transported into the book.

I was midway through the good stuff when my attention was ripped from the page by our next-­door neighbor Mr. Rollins reversing his pickup truck out of the driveway much too fast. He shifted gears, and the truck launched forward, spinning the tires as it accelerated out of view.

My stomach knotted. Things hadn’t been good next door since Mr. Rollins had lost his job a year ago. Dad said he’d been some kind of foreman at the chemical plant a few towns over. But the plant had closed. After that, Mr. Rollins stopped mowing the lawn. He didn’t grill burgers anymore either. Sometimes, if my bedroom window was open to the spring breeze, I could hear him yelling late at night.

My dad never yelled. He sighed.

He didn’t get mad at me and Maeve. He got disappointed.

I wondered what Lucian did when his dad yelled.

A tiny thrill rolled through me just thinking about him.

Lucian Rollins was a junior and starting quarterback on the varsity football team. I liked to think the serious, dark-­haired boy who took out the trash shirtless was the reason for my teenage sexual awakening. I’d gone from thinking boys were gross—­which, at twelve and thirteen, was absolutely accurate—­to wondering what it would be like to be kissed by the bad boy next door.

Lucian was gorgeous, athletic, and popular.

I, on the other hand, was a four-­eyed, busty, almost sixteen-­year-­old who would rather spend a Friday night curled up with a good book than drink warm beer by a bonfire in the field known as Third Base. I was not in his league. That league was occupied by cheerleaders and class presidents and beautiful teens who somehow escaped the desperate lack of self-­confidence that had been bestowed on the rest of us.

I excelled at a not-­sexy sport and had spent last week in detention thanks to my “strong objections” to dress code enforcement when my friend Sherry Salama Fiasco had gotten detention over a skirt that was one inch too short.

“Instead of policing the fashion choices of girls, why don’t you put that energy into teaching boys how to control themselves?” I’d argued. Loudly. I’d even earned some enthusiastic applause and a nod of approval from one of the senior cheerleaders in my study hall.

I didn’t hate the street cred. And my parents had refused to ground me for standing up for what was right.

I heard a creak and a slam next door. My book fell off my lap as I craned my neck for a better look.

My favorite thing about my room—­besides the fact that it had its own bathroom, library-­worthy bookshelves, and an awesome window seat for reading—­was the view. From my window seat, I could see the entire side of Lucian’s house, including his bedroom window.

There he was.

Lucian stalked into the backyard. Unfortunately, he was wearing a shirt. His shoulders were hunched, and he was absently rubbing his right arm while staring pensively at the ground.

Our backyard, thanks to Dad’s green thumb, was a fenced-­in wonderland of flowers and trees and shrubs. It was late March, and the cherry trees were blooming, an official announcement of the arrival of spring.

Lucian’s backyard looked more like an abandoned lot. The grass was patchy, and there were tufts of knee-­high weeds against their side of the fence. A rusty grill was abandoned against the side of the garage. I didn’t mean to judge, of course. Lots of people had better things to do than play in the dirt every weekend.

Though maybe Lucian should think about helping out around the house if his dad wasn’t going to take care of the yard work anymore. There was a push mower next to the grill, for gosh sakes. I didn’t want to have a crush on a lazy, entitled guy.

I willed him to approach the mower.

Instead, Lucian kicked at a rock on a bare patch of lawn and sent it flying. It soared through the air before smacking against our fence with a loud crack.

“Hey!” I yelled.

His gaze instantly came to my window. I flattened myself on the seat cushion and put a pillow over my face.

“Well, that was stupid, dummy. He already saw you,” I said into the pillow. I sat up again. But Lucian was nowhere to be seen.

The cherry tree outside my window shuddered, and I heard a grunt.

“What the—­”

There was something in the tree. No. Not something, someone. I blinked several times and wondered if I needed a new glasses prescription, because it looked like Lucian Rollins was climbing my tree. He shimmied up the trunk and gave the branch that skimmed over the porch roof a testing bounce.

Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. A hot, popular junior had just climbed my tree because I’d yelled at him.

It was with a heady mix of horror and excitement that I watched him scale the branch before nimbly jumping onto the roof.

I slid off the cushion and backed toward the middle of my room as Lucian Rollins threw a leg over my windowsill and climbed inside.

Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Lucian Rollins was in my bedroom. Shit! Lucian Rollins was in my bedroom!

I glanced around, hoping my room wasn’t totally embarrassing. Thank God Mom had insisted on giving me a room makeover for my twelfth birthday. My doll house and hammock full of stuffed animals had been replaced with floor-­to-­ceiling bookcases my dad had installed. The pale pink walls had been covered with a moody blue paint.

But I’d just dumped two loads of clean laundry in a haphazard pile on the floor in front of the closet because Mom needed the laundry basket. I’d also emptied the contents of my backpack at the foot of my bed because I couldn’t find my favorite berry-­pink highlighter that I reserved for only the most important class notes.

Dear lord. I had a favorite highlighter, and this past fall, Lucian had broken the school’s passing record on the football field.

My uninvited guest said nothing as I panicked silently.

Lucian picked up my book, flipped it over, and read the back. He raised a mocking eyebrow.

I crossed to him and snatched it out of his hand. “Why are you in my room?” I demanded, finally finding my voice.

“Mostly considering apologizing for the rock,” he said, his voice low and smooth.


He shrugged and began to wander the room. “I’ve never been inside your house before. I wanted to see what it was like.”

“You could have used the front door,” I pointed out. If I were a cheerleader, I’d know how to flirt. I’d have showered and be wearing matching pajamas and lip gloss. I’d toss my hair without hurting my neck, and he’d feel compelled to kiss me.

But I wasn’t a cheerleader. I was me, and I had no idea how to talk to my hot neighbor crush.

He paused at my desk and flipped through my CDs. His lips curved in a smirk. “Destiny’s Child and Enrique Iglesias.”

“You can’t just break into my house and judge my taste in music.”

“I’m not judging. I’m…intrigued.”

He was even cuter up close.

Wait. No, not cute. Gorgeous.

His hair was thick and dark and curled a little at the ends. He had a straight nose and high cheekbones that were so defined, Mrs. Clawser chose him as the model for portrait drawing in art class. Becky Bunton said Lucian had taken his shirt off and Mrs. Clawser had to stand in front of her hot flash fan for ten straight minutes.

Of course, Becky also claimed that her uncle invented JanSport book bags, so you had to take her claims with a grain of salt.

Lucian was tall with an athletic build that filled out his worn jeans and a long-­sleeve Knockemout football shirt in a way that leaned more toward man than boy.

Was it getting hot in here? Did I need a hot flash fan?

I hadn’t had sex yet. I wanted my first time to be with someone who made me feel like a heroine in a book. Someone who could sweep me off my feet and make me feel special and good, not sweaty and awkward in the back seat of an ancient Toyota like Becky’s first time.

Lucian, with his muscly forearms and romantic hair, would make a girl feel that way. Special. Important.

How was I supposed to date boys in my own league when presented with this specimen? My dating options were restricted to the lower tier of high school guys. Like a member of the stage crew or maybe one of the slower boys on the track team.

But none of them measured up to my gorgeous next-­door neighbor.

It wasn’t just his looks. Lucian moved through the halls of Knockemout High with a knowing confidence that the crowds would part around him. I, on the other hand, scurried from gap to gap, staring at the backs and shoulders of the entire student body.

Lucian cleared his throat and I blinked.

I’d been staring at him for a very long time. Long enough that he’d taken a seat on the bench at the foot of my bed and was staring back. Expectantly.

“Uh, do you want a soda or something?” I asked, not sure what I’d do if he said yes. My parents were downstairs, and they would be sure to notice me sneaking two root beers upstairs. Unlike the parents on TV, mine didn’t miss a thing.

“No, thanks,” he said, eyeing my trig homework. He picked up the top sheet of paper, the one I’d scrawled “This is stupid. I hate math.” all over.

I snatched it out of his hand and crumpled it behind my back.

I was smart. That was my thing. Put me in an English class or history or science and I was a guaranteed straight A student. But math was a different story.

“I could help you,” he said, reaching behind me and taking the paper back.

“You’re good at math?” I couldn’t quite keep the incredulity out of my tone.

“You think just because I play football I can’t be smart too?”

Actually, I’d been thinking that in this scenario, I should be the hot athlete’s tutor who he couldn’t help falling in love with during intimate study sessions. But this could work too.

“Of course not,” I scoffed.

“Then give me a pencil.” He held out a hand, and for a second, I battled the fantasy of simply putting my hand in his…and then jumping into his lap and kissing him.

But I wasn’t confident in my balance. What if I kneed him in the crotch or knocked the wind out of him?

Good sense won out, and I picked up my pink mechanical pencil from the carpet and handed it over.

“Come here,” he said, sliding down to the floor and patting the spot next to him.

I sat obediently.

“You had the first part right,” he said, retracing my steps with the pencil. “But here’s where you went wrong.”

I sat next to him and watched his big hand move the pink pencil over the sheet. Leave it to Lucian Rollins to make math sexy.

“Wow. You really are smart,” I said when he circled the answer.

His mouth curved ever so slightly at the corners. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” I promised.

“Your turn,” he said, handing me the pencil.

He smelled good. Which made me paranoid that he could smell me.

It took me three tries and an infinite amount of patience from Lucian, but I finally got it. I got the next problem on the second try. And when I nailed the right answer on the third problem in one take, I jumped up and spiked the pencil like it was a football in the end zone.

“Yes! Bite me, math!”

I was halfway through my victory dance when I remembered that I had a hot junior audience and sweaty armpits.

Lucian leaned back on his elbows on the carpet, watching in amusement. There was an actual smile on his face. One I’d put there. Something warm bloomed inside me. I was pretty sure it was a hot flash.

I tucked my hair behind both ears and sank back down to the floor. “Um, so thank you for that. I don’t usually get that excited over math homework.”

The smile was still there, and it was turning my insides to mush.

“I take it you’re more into reading than trig?” He nodded toward my bookcases.

“Oh, uh, yeah. I like books. A lot.”

“Are you going to write them?”

I shook my head. “Nah. Reading is just a hobby. I’m going to get a softball scholarship and go into sports medicine.” I had it all figured out. I was what my coach called an “aggressively enthusiastic pitcher.”

“Really?” he asked.

“You don’t think I can do it?”

“It just must be nice to know what you want to do.”

“You’re almost a senior,” I pointed out. “Where are you going to college? What are you going to major in?”

He shrugged, then winced and rubbed absently at his arm. “I don’t know yet.”

I frowned. “Well, what do you want to be?”


He sounded like he meant it. And not in a flippant teenage boy tired of Aunt Alice asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up way.

“Uh, okay. And how are you going to do that?” I asked.

“I’ll find a way.”

I was disappointed. A guy like Lucian should have big, specific dreams. He should want to innovate hearing aids for babies or maybe run a cool dental practice like my mom. Hell, even aiming for professional football player would be better than nothing.

“Sloane! Dinner,” my mother called from downstairs.

Crappity crap crap.

“Uh, okay!” I yelled back.

“I guess I should go,” Lucian said.

I didn’t want him to go. But I also didn’t want my parents to know a really hot football player had shimmied up a tree into my bedroom. In case he did it again and I was showered and wearing matching pj’s and lip gloss when he did.

“Ask the boy who climbed through your window if he wants to stay for dinner. We’re having meat loaf,” Mom shouted the invitation.

“Oh my God,” I muttered into my hands, mortified.

I glanced up at Lucian, and he grinned. A full-­on, knee-­dissolving, stomach-­swooping grin.

“Thanks, Mrs. Walton, but I need to get home,” he called back.

“You’re welcome to use the front door,” Mom shouted.

I winced. “You probably should. Otherwise, they’ll just come up here.”

“Okay,” he said, not seeming too concerned with my humiliation.

Squaring my shoulders, I marched us out of my bedroom and down the stairs, unsure of what reaction I was about to face. Standing up for women’s rights was one thing in my parents’ eyes. Sneaking boys into my room was an entirely different kind of rebellion.

My parents met us at the foot of the steps in the kitchen. Dad was in a frumpy beige sweater that matched his khakis too closely. Mom was still in her work scrubs. Both had glasses of wine.

“Mom, Dad, this is Lucian. He, uh, helped me with my trig homework,” I said, awkwardly making the introductions.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Walton,” Lucian said, shaking hands like he was an adult. I had a vision of him in a fancy suit presiding over meetings with his serious face and strong handshake. Maybe “rich” wasn’t such a lame goal after all.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you officially, Lucian,” Mom said, shooting me a we’ll-­discuss-­this-­later look.

“You’re always welcome here, especially if it keeps Sloane from hurling her math books across the room,” Dad said.

My toes curled in embarrassment. “Dad,” I hissed.

He reached out and ruffled my hair. I continued to die of the fatal, incurable condition of embarrassment.

“Are you sure you can’t stay for dinner?” Mom offered.

Lucian hesitated for just the barest second, and my parents were on him like pugs on peanut butter.

“Join us,” Dad insisted. “Karen makes a mean meat loaf, and I made the baked potatoes with horseradish sour cream.”

Lucian glanced at me, then at his feet before nodding. “Uh, if you’re sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” Mom insisted, steering us toward the kitchen island where the plates were stacked.

Oh my God. I was going to have dinner with Lucian Rollins. Yay!

And my parents. Boo!

It definitely wasn’t a date if chaperones were present. At least not in this century.

“Come on, you two,” Mom said, leading the way. “You can set the table.”

“Your parents are nice,” Lucian said as I shut the front door behind us. The scent of cherry blossoms was light on the crisp evening air.

“And embarrassing,” I said, cringing at some of the topics of conversation. “You really don’t have to help my dad get the summer decorations down from the garage rafters this weekend.”

My ladder-­fearing, five-­foot-­seven father was thrilled by Lucian’s height. My mother was thrilled with his apparent inability to say no.

“I don’t mind,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Don’t let them hear you say that, or else Mom will have you moving file boxes at her office and Dad will enlist you to trim the taller branches in the backyard.”

“Your house is great,” Lucian said. It sounded almost like an accusation.

“I’d say thanks, but I didn’t really have anything to do with it.”

“Mine sucks,” he said, jerking his chin in the direction of the small, beige two-­story next door. I noticed that Lucian’s father still hadn’t returned.

“Maybe you would think it was nicer if you mowed the lawn?” I suggested helpfully.

He looked down at me, amused again. “I doubt that would make things better.”

I crossed my arms over my chest to ward off the chill. “You never know. Sometimes making things nice on the outside makes them better all the way through.”

It was like when I woke up early enough to slap on some mascara and lipstick before school. A bold lip and long lashes made me feel like a prettier, more put-­together version of myself.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Thanks for dinner. I’ve gotta get back and do my own homework.”

He backed away.

Desperate for just another minute with him, my mind raced for something to say. “Hey! I hate to be that girl, but you still haven’t apologized for the rock,” I pointed out.

He flashed that little half smile, one foot on the porch, one foot on the top step. “Guess I’ll have to do that next time.”

Next time.

My stomach did the nervous swoopy thing again.

“I’ll see you around,” he said.

“Yeah. See you,” I said breathlessly. I stood there like an idiot and watched him amble down the walk before cutting across the driveway to his yard.

“Next time,” I whispered.

I went to bed that night with a smile on my face, Ruark and Shanna temporarily forgotten.

The next morning when I left for school, I couldn’t help but notice that Lucian’s dad’s truck still wasn’t in the driveway. But the front lawn had been mowed.


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