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Nelli’s gentleness makes it easy to leave the house without me feeling as though I’m abandoning my mother.
“Clara, wait!” my mother calls out.
I turn around. “Yeah?”
She motions for me to come over. “I need to talk to you.”
I walk over. “What’s up?”
She gestures for me to lean closer then whispers, “Don’t forget to scatter your father’s ashes. We’re running out of time.” She presses a small piece of paper into my palm.
I look down at what she gave me—a photo of lofty, snow-covered mountains pointing toward a crystal blue sky.
“Who took this picture, Mom?” I smooth my thumb along the creased photo. So this is where my father wants to be laid to rest. It’s pretty.
She simply smiles at me. “It’s pretty, isn’t it? Your father sure loved it there. And, if you don’t get his ashes there soon, it’ll be too late.”
“Too late for what?”
“For him to get his peace.”
I tuck the photo into the back pocket of my jeans then turn to Nelli. “Make sure she takes her pills this afternoon,” I tell her. “She’s been spitting them out a lot lately, at least when I give them to her.”
“Would you stop worrying and get going?” Nelli flicks her wrists, shooing me toward the door. “I’ve been taking care of your mother long enough to know the routine.”
I hitch the handle of my bag over my shoulder. “Sorry. The rooster thing must have stressed me out or something.”
I wave goodbye to the both of them, crack the front door open, and stick my head out. After I check for the rooster in the poorly lit hallway, I step out and cautiously walk past the numbered doors, heading toward the exit. When I make it outside without crossing paths with the crazy bird, I breathe in relief.
The sun blares down on me as I start up the sidewalk and veer toward the bus stop on the corner of the street. But I slam to a halt when a Jeep Wrangler pulls up to the curb in front of the complex. I try not to grin as Jax Hensley leans over and opens the passenger door. Grinning will only make this thing between us more complicated, make our arrangement mean more than it is. And the last thing I need in my life is another side-blinding complication.
Jax is a year and a half younger than me, although you would never guess it. Not only is he extremely responsible—one of the things that drew me to him—but he looks older too. With brown hair, hazel eyes surrounded by dark eyelashes, and full lips that I always find myself biting whenever we’re making out, he drips adorable sexiness.
“What are you doing here?” I approach the vehicle but don’t get in. I haven’t heard from him since the night he got a call from his mom. He’d sent me a text, telling me stuff went okay. He was pretty vague, but I didn’t have time to analyze it since I worked the nightshift on Saturday. “I thought we only met up on Fridays.”
“I know, but I want to pick up some stuff from the store and knew it was your last class today, so I thought, what the hell. I might as well pick her up.” He dazzles me with a charming grin, the same grin that got me into this whole mess to begin with.
The day I met him, I was a hot mess—late for class, wearing my scrubs with no makeup on. I smelled like someone who hadn’t taken a shower in four days and looked like I was riding on only three hours of sleep, which was exactly what had happened.
As I was sprinting to make it to class on time, I’d sprinted around the corner of the building and slammed into Jax. My books flew everywhere, and I just about started to cry due to exhaustion.
I clumsily bent over to grab my books and he crouched down to help me.
“Hey, I know you, right?” he asked as he handed me my Chemistry book.
I glanced up to a pair of hazel eyes studying me so intensely that I wanted to hunker down and hide.
“I don’t think so.” I grabbed the book from him and hurried down the hallway to class.
He followed me.
“What are you doing?” I hugged the book to my chest as I rushed passed people with him striding along right beside me.
“Going to class.” He seemed amused and not at all bothered by my attire. In fact, I caught him checking me out once or twice. “That is what people generally do at college.”
I stopped in front of the door of my English class, and he halted with me.
“But you’re not in this class,” I pointed out.
“Aren’t I?” he quipped. “Funny, I thought I was.”
When I gaped at him, he laughed, this full belly, crinkling-around-the-corner-of-the eyes laugh. It was probably the most beautiful sound I’d heard in a long time. Such freedom to his laughter and I envied him because of it.
“I usually sit in the back, so you probably haven’t noticed me.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Jax Hensley.”
I shook his offered hand. “Clara McKiney.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Clara McKiney.” He gave my outfit a once over. “Cute scrubs, by the way.” His lips twitched with amusement then he swung around me and walked into class.
It seemed like I should have been insulted—scrubs aren’t cute and I looked like crap—but for some reason, I felt flattered enough to smile. After that, I started noticing Jax a lot. We quickly became friends and stayed that way for about six months.