Chapter 3

A gentle breeze is the only noise between the both of us. Hell, I can barely even hear myself breathe. I’m trying to think of something to say, but every time I come to a decision, I immediately stop myself. What the hell do you talk about with a person you haven’t seen in three years? Politics?

I sigh and silently scream at myself for being so lame. “Um…so what did you think of the show?” Declan asks.

I pop out of my head and turn to look at him. “Oh, it was awesome. I really enjoyed it.”

“Any favorite performances?”

“Yours.” Jesus, did I say that too quickly? “Um…to me I think yours was the best.”

Glancing over, I see a bit of color in his cheeks and on the tips of his ears. “Thanks. I uh…didn’t know you were in the audience tonight. I feel kind of stupid now that I know you saw that and-“

I stop where I stand and grab Declan by the shoulders, turning him to face me. “I’m going to say this once: that dance was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen in my life. Knowing you turned that night into such an amazing thing makes me feel absolutely incredible. So don’t you ever think of it as anything less. Okay?”

He nods once and I let go of his shoulders. Immediately, embarrassment fills my chest and I bury my face in my hands. “That was so freaking corny…”

“Thank you.” Lowering my hands, I see Declan looking up at me with a small smile on his face. “Hearing that come from you, I really appreciate it.”

That smile of his sure is infectious. Smiling myself, I gesture down the street. “The café is on the corner.”

“Race you, Mr. Muscles.”

He’s off like a shot and it takes me a quick second to react. We both sprint up the street, running in stride with one another. But I manage to get in front of him by just a hair as we come to a stop. “You’re…taller than me…” Declan says, trying to catch his breath.

“Maybe you’re…just slow…”

He smacks my arm, laughing a bit. His face is slightly flushed and his hair is a bit messed up from the run. All the moisture in my mouth suddenly disappears for some reason. “Um…want to head in?” I ask.

He nods and we walk into the café. While nothing fancy, the café, The Duke Dime, is quaint and very open. I usually come here to unwind after a tough day thanks to the constant easygoing music and quiet atmosphere. I lead Declan to a table and we both take a seat.

A waitress comes over and I order us both some waters and coffees. “Nice place,” Declan says.

“I like it a lot. Really comfy and the food is nice too.”

“Um…Ash Wilson?”

Looking over, I find a woman and a young child next to her, who looks very excited while wearing a Duke t-shirt. “That’s me,” I say, putting on a smile.

“Hi!” the woman says. “Um…my son and I were sitting over there when we saw you walk in. We’re here for the Virginia Tech game tomorrow and my son is a big fan of yours.”

I look at the boy, who looks to be about 7 or 8 years old and is giddy with excitement. I smile at him. “Hi there. What’s your name?”


“Well, Thomas, it’s great meeting a Duke fan.”

He smiles at me, revealing a few missing baby teeth. “I hope we’re not interrupting,” the woman says. “But if it’s not too much trouble, do you think we can get a picture or two with you?”


I stand up as Thomas excitedly bounces up and down. His mom snaps a couple photos of me with her son and a selfie or two with all three of us. I even think Declan managed to sneak in for a photobomb in one of them. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a pen and kneel behind Thomas, quickly scrawling my signature on the back of his shirt.

His mom is beaming at me when I stand back up. “Thank you so much!”

“Thank you!” Thomas follows up.

I smile at the two as they head back to their table. Taking a seat myself, I see Declan smiling at me with a raised eyebrow. “What?” I playfully ask.

“That was absolutely adorable and very sweet of you.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m just grateful to the Duke fans.”

The waitress returns with our drinks and Declan orders a turkey club while I get a cheeseburger. “Not watching your girly figure, are we?” he mocks.

“Says the guy who also ordered a milkshake with his sandwich.”


We sit in silence for a few moments, the sound of music and other patrons filling the air. “So, what have you been up to?” I ask. “Other than dancing I mean. Do you go to school?”

He sadly shakes his head. “My family can’t afford it. My brothers and I all graduated high school with honors, but even though we got some scholarships, we wouldn’t have been able to pay off loans. So my brothers work with my dad in his auto shop while I’m still dancing.”

“Well, your dancing is at a school, right?”

“Sort of. I see it as a school and I’m there on full ride, but it wouldn’t help me when I eventually stop dancing in the future. Have to grow up at some point, as much as I don’t want to. I might just work with my dad.”

I keep remembering that my family isn’t like other families in the world. I’ve never had to worry about things like food, school, and clothes, since we could always afford it. But Declan’s family? Based on what he’s told me, it sounds like they’ve struggled for a while.

Our food arrives a minute or so later. Silence seems to be our ongoing theme, seeing as neither of us has said a word in the last few minutes. “Um…so how long are you in town?” I ask.

“Oh, we leave Saturday morning. Heading back to Virginia and back to work.”

An unfamiliar feeling of disappointment fills my stomach. “Oh okay. Well, do you think it would be possible to see you again before you leave? I’m not back in Virginia until November.”

A small smile appears on his face, warming me. “You’re more than welcome to come to our competition tomorrow. Admission is free and it’s in the afternoon.”

“Yeah that would be-“ I stop short as I come to a realization. “Ah, damn it. I can’t. I have a game against Virginia Tech tomorrow. Pre-game meetings and then the game, you know?”

His smile disappears, causing me to feel slightly upset at seeing it. “Well, no big deal. Just circumstances, I guess.”

“But if I had time I would go to get the best seat I could find.”

He gives me that shy smile again. There’s something about that smile that I love seeing. “Thanks, Ash. I really appreciate it.”

We make light conversation, shooting the shit from the last three years. We wrap up the rest of our food, me picking up the tab, and exit the café. It’s a cool night, comfortable for me. But I see Declan shiver next to me. “You cold?” I ask.

“Only a little. It’s nothing.”

“Here.” I shrug out of my jacket and throw it over Declan’s shoulders. “It’s probably a bit big on you, but it does the trick regardless.”

Color rises on his cheeks as he pulls the jacket on. “Thanks. But won’t you want it back?”

“No worries. I got one just like it back in my room.”

Only cost me about five hundred bucks. “Well, I promise I’ll give it back to you when you get back to Virginia.”

I give him a smile. We both stand on the sidewalk, a bit of an awkward air around us. “So…do you want a ride back to where you’re staying?” I ask.

“I appreciate the offer, but my hotel is just a couple blocks away.”

“Then at least let me walk you there. Don’t want you to get mugged or something on the way back.”

He nods and we start our leisurely stroll down the block. It’s a quiet night, only a few other people on the street. “I really had a nice time with you tonight,” Declan says to me.

“Yeah, I did too. Catching up with you was something I really enjoyed.”

“Well, three years is a lot of ground to cover. But I’m glad to see you’re doing well, Ash.” We come up to the front of his hotel. “Thanks again for walking me back.”

“It’s no trouble at all. Just wanted to make sure you made it back okay.” Once again, we stand in silence. “Oh um…if you want, you can still text-“ I stop myself. “Oh right. You mentioned you don’t have a cell phone…”

He smiles at me and digs into his back pocket, pulling out a smart phone that’s a few years old. “It’s nothing fancy, but my family was finally able to afford a phone plan and some used cell phones.”

I have my phone out in record time and we exchange contact information. I see he only has a handful of contacts, so knowing I’m one of a few makes me feel pretty damn good. “Smile,” I say, holding up my phone.

He smiles for the camera and I snap a photo of him, pasting it as the contact photo. He does the same for me. “Well, I should probably get inside,” he says. “Need to be up early for tomorrow.”

“Yeah, me too. N-Not go inside with you! I mean…be up early.”

He laughs and it immediately puts me at ease. “I hope I can see you again soon, Ash.”

Before I know it, I grab Declan in a tight hug, feeling his arms circle me a moment later. “Me too.”

With one more squeeze, I let him go and he smiles one more time before heading inside. I watch him as he goes before he turns a corner and is gone. With a bit of a hop in my step, I head back to campus. As I walk back, my phone buzzes and I see a text from Declan on the screen.

‘I got swarmed by my friends as soon as I got back upstairs. Send help!’

I smile at the screen and quickly type back a response.

‘You’re on your own.’

My phone buzzes a second later and I see a picture of Declan with his friends piled on top of him on my screen.


I laugh and send back a grinning emoji before I continue on my walk.


I fall onto the bench with a hard thud, tossing my helmet to the floor in front of me. “Drink up, boys,” Coach Bless says. “We’re only at halftime. There’s still thirty minutes of play left.”

The locker room stays quiet as we all sip our water and sports drinks. So far, the game isn’t going as well as we all would have hoped. We’re down 13 to 7 at the moment. And while that isn’t terrible, we should be way ahead. But thanks to an interception on my part, the momentum shifted to Virginia Tech’s favor.

Taking another swig from my bottle, I toss it beside me. “Something on your mind, Wilson?” Press asks me.

“No, sir. I’m here 100%.”

He raises an eyebrow at me. “You sure about that? Because based on how you played in the first half, I’d say otherwise.” I look to the floor, unable to look him in the eye. “Take a walk with me.”

Sighing to myself, I head out of the locker room with him. “Now how about you tell me the truth? What exactly is on your mind, son?”

I fall into an easy pace with him. “Nothing serious, sir. It’s just…a friend of mine is in town right now and it’s been more than three years since I last saw him. I was just hoping to see him again before he left for home.”

Coach hums to himself. “Close friend?”

“Pretty close. Someone I feel I can trust with a dark secret.”

“I’m not sure why that would be on your mind so much.”

Neither do I. But whenever I have a lull in my mind, Declan’s face pops up without warning. “I’m sorry, sir. I promise you I’ll be completely in the game in the second half.”

“I would hope so, Wilson. You’re a top prospect for the Heisman this year. Performances like the one you put on in the first half won’t get you there. But you and I both know you have what it takes to win it hands down.”

I nod in understanding. “Coach Press!” Looking down the hallway, I see one of the assistant coaches running over to us. “Phone call for Ash.”

“Gee, I wonder who that could be,” I sarcastically say. I take the phone from him and he walks off. “Be prepared for a lot of yelling.” I hold the phone to my ear. “Hello?”

“What in God’s name was that?!”

“Hello to you too, Dad. Nice to hear from you.”

“I don’t need any sarcasm from you right now! What I need is an explanation as to why you gave such a piss poor performance in the first half! Starting quarterbacks don’t do shit like that!”

I lower the phone from my ear and make a choking motion toward Coach, who chuckles to himself. “Do you not understand how badly that affects your standings in the running for the Heisman?!” Dad yells. “I have spent too much time and money to have you throw all of that away because you can’t get your head out of your ass!”

I roll my eyes, having heard this same spiel time and time again. “Give me the phone,” Coach says. I hand it over to him. “Mr. Wilson? This is Coach Press.” Dad’s angry voice echoes through the phone, causing Coach to hold it away from his ear. “Yes, I hear you loud and clear.”

Coach stays silent for a moment. “No, I haven’t been getting your emails,” he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I must have given you the wrong email by mistake. Anyway, we have a game to get back to. Please don’t ever call back.”

He hangs up before Dad can get another word in. “No offense to you, Wilson, but your dad is a gigantic jackass.”

“That’s actually a compliment.”

“Now, let’s get back to this friend of yours. Do you think he’d be happy hearing that you lost a game because you couldn’t stop focusing on him and whatever he’s doing?”

I think it through and the mental image of Declan chewing me out pops up, causing me to laugh. “He’d probably kick my ass for it.”

“So go out there and give him a performance that will have him praising you until he’s blue in the face. Even if he isn’t watching, he’ll hear about it from someone. Got it?”

With some extra motivation, I feel ready to get back onto the field. “Yes, coach!”

I turn and start to job back to the locker room. “Wilson! Halftime just started! There’s still another ten minutes left!”

Oops. Spinning back around, I keep my eyes off Press as I skitter back to the locker room, hearing his laugh as I make my way back. Walking back into the locker room, I take a seat on a bench and will myself to relax. I’ve been in this position dozens of times throughout my life. Nerves and me getting distracted aren’t like me.

Shutting my eyes, I do nothing but breathe. And slowly, all the noise in the room begins to fade. It’s nothing but me and my thoughts now. “You know you’re playing like shit right now, don’t you?”

I laugh at the sound of Declan’s voice in my ears. “I do. But everything will be better in the second half.”

“It better. My foot has your name on it right now and I learn you lost today, you’ll find it buried someone inside of you.”

I laugh to myself as Declan’s voice fades away. “Alright, boys!” Coach yells. “Listen up!” Reopening my eyes, I find Coach standing in front of me and all my teammates focused on him. “While we’re not far behind, we need to pull ourselves together in order to pull this back.

“Offensive line, you’re holding strong, but you’re making careless mistakes. Think about your mothers. Imagine Ash to be your mother.”

“Eww…” someone calls out.

Everyone chuckles, even Coach. “Pretend here, boys. Now, the other team is doing all they can to try and knock your mothers down. Do you want to see her hurt?”

“Fuck no!”

“Someone hurts my mama, I hurt them back!”

“That’s what I want to hear,” Coach says. “Defensive line, you’re doing well putting the pressure on, but it’s not enough. That quarterback has been talking shit about each and every one of you. Thinks you’re a bunch of peewee football kids playing with the big boys. You going to let that slide?”

“Fuck that shit!”

“We’ll show them how the real big boys play!”

The defensive line erupts in a chorus of yells and cheers, earning a grin from Coach. “Ash, you’ve been slipping a bit. You’re the one leading this band of brothers into the line of fire. You mess up and your brothers die. Do you want any of your brothers to die on your watch?”

Grabbing a spare football from down by my feet, I give it a twirl in my hand and spin it on the tip of my finger. “None of them will die with me in charge, Coach. I’m focused and ready to get back out there.”

“How the hell does he do that?” someone asks from behind me.

“Now that’s what I want to hear,” Coach says, grinning from ear to ear. “I want you all to get back on that field and raise some hell and kick some Hokie ass!”

The locker room explodes in a frenzy of cheers and screams as we all don our helmets and run back to the field. With newfound energy, I’m ready to destroy everyone that stands in my way.


“And first place in the men’s solo division goes to…” My heart races in my chest as I stare down at the floor. “Declan Roth!”

I release the breath I’ve been holding as the crowd cheers. Walking over to the announcer, I accept the trophy with a handshake. “You’ve definitely earned this,” he says, smiling at me.

“Thank you very much.”

Giving the crowd a bow, I return backstage with the rest of the other dancers, who congratulate me on my performance. I gaze down at the trophy in my hand and feel myself smiling. Just wait until I tell Ash about… Jesus Christ, I need to restrain myself. Ash is a straight man and I’ll never get myself a shot at him.

Sighing to myself, I return to the dressing room, where I’m greeted by a round of applause from my friends and Ms. Buchan. “That was fantastic, Declan!” Ms. Buchan says as she rushes over to me.

She grabs me and picks me up off the floor, spinning me around several times before finally setting me down. “Thanks, Ms. Buchan.”

“It’s definitely hard to win against you,” Jonathan says, holding his third place trophy.

“Hey, your routine was awesome,” I tell him. “Third place is nothing to turn your nose up at.”

“But it’s smaller than yours…”

“That’s what he said!” Rick calls out.

“Trophy envy!” Taylor laughs.

The rest of the room joins as Jonathan rolls his eyes and slumps to the floor in a heap. “Someone console me,” he groans, holding his trophy for support.

McKenzie bends down and gives his shoulder a light pat. “There, there…”

Jonathan makes a happy sound as everyone slowly unwinds. Pulling my phone out my bag, I find a few text messages on there. The first one from Dad.

‘Your brother just ruined a dish by leaving it in the oven three hours too long. Damn thing melted.’

He attached an image of the complete disaster that is the inside of the oven.

‘Come back soon. Your cooking is the only one that’s good.’

I roll my eyes, knowing he actually misses me. My brothers also texted me.

‘Have fun. Be sure to bring me back something!’ Brock says.

‘Ignore whatever Brock says. He’s being a dumbass as usual.’ Emmett tells me.

Colby just texts me a rolling eyes emoji. Just as I’m about to put my phone away, a notification grabs my attention. Another text? A picture pops up on my screen of Ash in what looks to be football pads and some very tight football pants. A huge grin sits on his face as he holds a football under his arm.

Holy shit. He’s…absolutely gorgeous. The hard lines of muscle that stretch beneath his padding, the bulge of his biceps, the beautiful and carefree look on his face, it’s all almost too much to look at. It’s like he’s been ripped straight out of a Sports Illustrated shoot. Another text notification pops up.

‘We won our game! Thanks to yours truly! ;)’

Laughing to myself, I hold up my trophy and snap a quick selfie.

‘I won too :)’

His reply is almost instantaneous.

‘That’s awesome! I’m really proud of you, Dec!’

I can’t even stop myself from smiling as I thank him. I go back to the picture he sent me, wishing I could see all that in person. “Whoa! Declan’s got a hot guy on his phone!”

My phone is ripped out of my hands as my friends all surround it. “Hey! Give that back!”

“Holy shit, man!” Rick says. “Isn’t this your guy from yesterday?”

I manage to snatch my phone back and lock it. “First off, he’s not ‘my guy.’ He’s just a friend. Second, yes that’s him. His name is Ash and he was just telling me about his team winning his football game.”

 Locking my phone, I toss it back into my bag. “Based on that picture, it seems like he’s more than a friend,” Taylor says.

“He’s just screwing around. Nothing to it.”

A sudden clap gets our attention. “Okay, everyone!” Ms. Buchan says. “We’re going to grab a quick bite to eat, then we’ll head back to the hotel so we can rest before we head back home tomorrow. Sound good?”

We all agree and put all of our stuff together. Finishing my phone out of my bag again, I see another text from Ash on the screen along with a picture of him face down on what looks to be a bench.

‘Send help and food. Can’t move… X_X’

I laugh to myself once again before I get back to putting all my stuff away.


I toss my bag onto my bed and collapse onto it. I’m freaking exhausted. I’m too tired to even try and go out with the rest of the guys. Frankly, I just want to order a pizza and put on some bad TV. A buzzing from my pocket grabs my attention and I pull my phone out. “Hello?” I ask without even glancing at the screen.

“You sound half dead. So I guess the game was good?”

Chuckling to myself as I take in Kat’s sarcasm, I turn onto my back and stare up at the ceiling. “Yeah, we won. Played like crap at first, but it ended well. Sucks you weren’t able to watch.”

“Yeah, Daddy wanted me to help at the diner this weekend and the TV there is being fixed after some jackass threw his glass of water at it.”

“Ouch. Well I hope he paid for the damages.”

“And then some, so Daddy’s happy about that. And now I’m sitting at home in my comfiest sweatpants with Micah on his way back with some chicken wings and ice cream.” Micah is Kat’s boyfriend who often helps Kat and her dad at the diner. “What about you?”

“I just got back to my place. I was going to order a pizza and then put on some shit reality TV. Oh! You wouldn’t believe what happened!”

“Let me guess: one of your teammates managed to eat seventy wings in one sitting.”

“No, but Derrick did get fifty-seven down last week. But no. I found Declan again!”

There’s a pause on the other end of the line. “Wait. Declan? As in dancer Declan who you saved from jumping off a bridge?”

“Yeah! He had a dance thing and came to Duke! I met him completely by chance!”

“Wow, small world. How has he been? I haven’t seen him ever since that night.”

“From what he’s told me, he seems good. He’s a full time dancer now with his dance company and wants to become a professional at some point. He and I had dinner last night and caught up a bit more.”

Kat stays silent for a moment. “You seem pretty excited to have seen him again after so long.”

“Well, why wouldn’t I be? I saved the guy from jumping off a bridge when he was 18. I would have gone to see him if my dad didn’t ship me off to football training camps every summer.”

“No offense, but your dad sounds like a real prick of a man.”

“None taken. And he is.”

There’s a sound from Kat’s end. “Oh Micah’s here with the food. I need to get going.”

“Sounds good. I’ll stop by the diner next time I’m back home.”

We say our goodbyes and hang up and I’m left staring at the blank ceiling. I wonder how Declan’s competition went. A sudden ding comes from my phone and, speak of the devil, a text from Declan is on the screen.

‘We won! Each and every one of us won!’

A picture of him and his friends are on the screen, all of them holding trophies. He looks so happy right there. It makes me smile just looking at it. Another ding comes from my phone, but this one I’m much less excited for.

‘I don’t know what the hell was with that piss poor performance today, but I expect better from you. I want you training all weekend. That means no going out with your friends, no parties, none of that bullshit. You’ll be in the gym running drills with Coach Bless all weekend. Get it?’

I immediately type out a message to Coach.

‘I take it my dad sent you a message?’

He replies immediately.

‘Unfortunately. I already have plans this weekend and I for damn sure won’t spend all of it in the gym. You can workout all you like. Just don’t expect me to be there. Your old man is acting more like a drill sergeant than a father if you ask me.’

He’s got that right.

‘Sorry again for this.’

‘No worries, Wilson. Not your fault in the least. Be sure to actually find time to get a workout in, but relax this weekend. We’re only a few weeks into the season, not to mention this is your final year in college. Go out. Have fun. Drink so much you can’t remember what happened last night. I don’t know what you kids do nowadays, but don’t let your old man put you down like that.’

I’m really lucky to have a coach like Coach Bless. Knowing he actually cares about his players makes me want to work that much harder for him. Setting my phone aside, I think about what Coach told me. It actually is my last year in college, and then I’m off to the real world. Or as dad wants me to do, the NFL draft.

Just another way for him to keep molding me into the perfect kid he wants me to be. Such bullshit. Another text alert grabs my attention and I’m reluctant to even look. But curiosity gets the better of me and I grab it anyway. It’s from Declan, thankfully.

‘I wish I had time to see you again before I head back home. But it was really great seeing you again after so long, Ash. I really hope you and I can stay in contact into the future and maybe I’ll see you again when you come back to Virginia. Take care. :)’

A tightness fills my chest. Why does this text sound like a goodbye more than anything? And why do I feel like I don’t want this to be a goodbye? I’ve already said goodbye to Declan once and I didn’t see him for more than three years after that. How long will it be before I see him again if I let him go one more time?

Tossing my phone away, I jump off my bag and begin digging through my closet. I have no idea what the hell it is I’m doing. But I know one thing for certain: I’m not letting Declan go again.


“Okay, everyone!” Ms. Buchan says. “Time to get on the bus!”

How someone could be so chipper so early in the morning I’ll never know. Hell, the sun is barely up and half of the group is hardly even awake. Dragging my luggage behind me, I start loading it into the bus. “So anything from your guy?” Sebastian asks me.

“For the last time, he is not my guy. And other than a short conversation last night, nothing has happened. He’s just a friend. Nothing more.”

Everyone pauses around me for a moment before continuing to load their things into the undercarriage of the bus. Once we’re all on, I pull out a book from my backpack and return to where I was reading it. “So it’s going to be about an eleven or twelve hour drive back home,” Ms. Buchan says.

The bus groans as a whole. “But it only took eight hours to get here before!” Taylor says.

“Sorry! There’s a lot of construction on the highway where we would normally go, so we’re going to have to take the long way back! But rest assured! We’ll make plenty of stops for food and the bathroom along the way!”

Everyone settles once again and I go back to my book. A few extra hours of reading time would be nice. The doors to the bus close and slowly, the bus roars to life. It pulls away from the curb, but jerks to a stop not even a moment later. “Why have we stopped?” Ms. Buchan asks the driver.

“There’s some guy in a car blocking the exit. I can’t move until he gets out of the way.”

Oh well. Shit happens. Looking out the window, I see the car in question blocking the road. And it’s definitely a nice one, my mouth almost watering at the sight of it. It’s an absolutely beautiful black 1970 Pontiac GTO, or Judge as a lot of people call it. And even from here, I can tell it’s in fantastic condition.

But why would a Judge be sitting in the middle of the road this early in the morning? From the other side of the car, I see someone stepping out. My heart rises into my throat at seeing a head of blonde hair. Slamming my book shut, I practically jump out of my seat and rush down the aisle. “Open the door!”

“Declan!” Ms. Buchan says. “What’s going on?”

“Just open the door, please!”

After a moment, the driver opens the door and I rush out of the bus. And standing right there is Ash, his face lightly flushed from the cool morning chill. “Oh um…hey,” he says.

Shaking my surprise out of my face, I face him. “Ash, what are you doing here?”

“Just…I thought I’d surprise you and uh…” He scratches the back of his head, something pretty hour of character for him. He’s usually cool and collected. “Look. This is going to sound really weird, but…I didn’t want to say goodbye just yet.”

It feels like my heart stops in my chest for a moment. “I mean, you and I only saw each other again two days ago and all we’ve done since then is have a meal and text. And knowing you’re going to leave and me not knowing when I’ll be able to see you again? I didn’t want that to happen.

“So…I want to drive you back home to Virginia. I know it’s strange, but I…I just really want to do this. Do you think that would be okay?”

As much as I try to will my racing heart to slow down, my body is betraying me at this very moment. The sound of a loud blaring horn causes me to jump. Looking back at the bus, I see Ms. Buchan in front of the bus driver as she sticks her head out the window. “Ride with that man, Declan!” she yells. “Every single person on this bus will shun you if you don’t!”

My friends lean out the windows of the bus and cheer along with her. My face reddens as I hear Ash chuckle from behind me. “I guess you have permission,” he says. “But it’s still your choice.”

Turning back to face him, a smile tugs at my lips. “I’m going to grab my stuff.”

He beams at me and goes back to his car as I go back to the bus. Climbing back on board, I’m met by the grinning faces of Ms. Buchan, my friends, and even the bus driver. “Do you think there’s room in that car for one more?” Mason asks. “I don’t want to be stuck in a bus for twelve hours…”

He is then pelted by various things thrown at him. Grabbing my backpack, I say my goodbyes and get my luggage from the storage underneath the bus before heading over to Ash. I throw my things in the trunk and backseat and climb in. “What happened to your old car?” I ask as I shut the door.

“Some jackass t-boned it when it was sitting in a parking lot. My dad thought that this one would help sell the image of a Heisman Trophy worthy player. Not that I’m complaining. This baby is awesome.”

“My family would wet themselves if they saw this.”

“Well, they’re going to get the chance.”

Turning the key, the engine roars to life and I let out a sigh. “Beautiful…”

Ash laughs. “I thought you didn’t like cars.”

“I never said that. I love them. I just love dancing more.” He smiles at me and pulls away from the curb before getting onto the road. “So, we have a full day’s drive ahead of us. Do you have anything in mind to help pass the time?”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out his cell phone and hands it over to me. “I have a twenty hour playlist of some of the best and worst songs from the 90’s and early 2000’s.”

Oh fuck yes. I grab the aux cord and plug in the phone, hitting shuffle on the phone. After a moment, the disgustingly sugary pop that is “MMMBop” by Hanson plays through the speakers. Ash lets out a woop. “This song sucks but I love it so much! Turn it up!”

I turn up the volume as Ash turns onto the highway. This is going to be a fun trip.



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