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Why the hell is your purseoutside?
I might have also left the key to your apartment on the hallway floor.
He doesnt even respond to that one. He just groans. Ill call Miles and see if hes home yet. Give me two minutes.
Wait. Whos Miles?
He lives across the hall. Whatever you do, dont open the door again until I call you back.
Corbin hangs up, and I lean against his front door.
Ive lived in San Francisco all of thirty minutes, and Im already being a pain in his ass. Figures. Ill be lucky if he lets me stay here until I find a job. I hope that doesnt take long, considering I applied for three RN positions at the closest hospital. It might mean working nights, weekends, or both, but Ill take what I can get if it prevents me from having to dip into savings while Im back in school.
My phone rings. I slide my thumb across the screen and answer it. Hey.
Yep, I reply, wondering why he always double-checks to see if its me. Hecalled me, so who else would be answering it who sounds exactly like me?
I got hold of Miles.
Good. Is he gonna help me get my stuff?
Not exactly, Corbin says. I kind of need you to do me a huge favor.
My head falls against the door again. I have a feeling the next few months are going to be full of inconvenient favors, since he knows hes doing me a huge one by letting me stay here. Dishes? Check. Corbins laundry? Check. Corbins grocery shopping? Check.
What do you need? I ask him.
Miles kind of needs your help.
The neighbor? I pause as soon as it clicks, and I close my eyes. Corbin, please dont tell me the guy you called to protect me from the drunk guy isthe drunk guy.
Corbin sighs. I need you to unlock the door and let him in. Let him crash on the couch. Ill be there first thing in the morning. When he sobers up, hell know where he is, and hell go straight home.
I shake my head. What kind of apartment complex are you living in? Do I need to prepare to be groped by drunk people every time I come home?
Long pause. He groped you?
Grope might be a bit strong. He did grab my ankle, though.
Corbin lets out a sigh. Just do this for me, Tate. Call me back when youve got him and all your stuff inside.
Fine. I groan, recognizing the worry in his voice.
I hang up with Corbin and open the door. The drunk guy falls onto his shoulder, and his cell phone slips from his hand and lands on the floor next to his head. I flip him onto his back and look down at him. He cracks his eyes open and attempts to look up at me, but his eyelids fall shut again.
Youre not Corbin, he mutters.
No. Im not. But I am your new neighbor, and from the looks of it, youre about to owe me at least fifty cups of sugar.
I lift him by his shoulders and try to get him to sit up, but he doesnt. I dont think he can, actually. How does a person even get this drunk?
I grab his hands and pull him inch by inch into the apartment, stopping when hes just far enough inside for me to be able to close the door. I retrieve all of my things from outside the apartment, then shut and lock the front door. I grab a throw pillow from the couch, prop his head up, and roll him onto his side in case he pukes in his sleep.
And thats all the help hes getting from me.
When hes comfortably asleep in the middle of the living-room floor, I leave him there while I look around the apartment.
The living room alone could fit three of the living rooms from Corbins last apartment. The dining area is open to the living room, but the kitchen is separated from the living room by a half-wall. There are several modern paintings throughout the room, and the thick, plush sofas are a light tan, offsetting the vibrant paintings. The last time I stayed with him, he had a futon, a beanbag chair, and posters of models on the walls.
I think my brother might finally be growing up.
Very impressive, Corbin, I say out loud as I walk from room to room and flip on all the lights, inspecting what has just become my temporary home. I kind of hate that its so nice. Itll make it harder to want to find my own place once I get enough money saved up.
I walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator. Theres a row of condiments in the door, a box of leftover pizza on the middle shelf, and a completely empty gallon of milk still sitting on the top shelf.
Of course he doesnt have groceries. I cant have expected him to change completely.
I grab a bottled water and exit the kitchen to go search for the room Ill be living in for the next few months. There are two bedrooms, so I take the one that isnt Corbins and set my suitcase on top of the bed. I have about three more suitcases and at least six boxes down in the car, not to mention all my clothes on hangers, but Im not about to attempt those tonight. Corbin said hed be back in the morning, so Ill leave that to him.
I change into a pair of sweats and a tank top, then brush my teeth and get ready for bed. Normally, I would be nervous about the fact that theres a stranger in the same apartment Im in, but I have a feeling I dont need to worry. Corbin would never ask me to help someone he felt might be a threat to me in any way. Which confuses me, because if this is common behavior for Miles, Im surprised Corbin asked me to bring him inside.
Corbin has never trusted guys with me, and I blame Blake for that. He was my first serious boyfriend when I was fifteen, and he was Corbins best friend. Blake was seventeen, and I had a huge crush on him for months. Of course, my friends and I had huge crushes on most of Corbins friends, simply because they were older than we were.
Blake would come over most weekends to stay the night with Corbin, and we always seemed to find a way to spend time together when Corbin wasnt paying attention. One thing led to another, and after several weekends of sneaking around, Blake told me he wanted to make our relationship official. The problem Blake didnt foresee was how Corbin would react once Blake broke my heart.
And boy, did he break it. As much as a fifteen-year-old heart can be broken after the span of a two-week secret relationship. Turned out he was officially dating quite a few girls during the two weeks he was with me. Once Corbin found out, their friendship was over, and all of Corbins friends were warned not to come near me. I found it almost impossible to date in high school until after Corbin finally moved away. Even then, though, the guys had heard horror stories and tended to steer clear of Corbins little sister.
As much as I hated it then, I would more than welcome it now. Ive had my fair share of relationships go wrong since high school. I lived with my most recent boyfriend for more than a year before we realized we wanted two separate things out of life. He wanted me home. I wanted a career.
So now Im here. Pursuing my masters degree in nursing and doing whatever I can to avoid relationships. Maybe living with Corbin wont be such a bad thing after all.
I head back to the living room to turn out the lights, but when Ive rounded the corner, I come to an immediate halt.
Not only is Miles up off the floor, but hes in the kitchen, with his head pressed against his arms and his arms folded on top of the kitchen counter. Hes seated on the edge of a bar stool, and he looks as if hes about to fall off it any second. I cant tell if hes sleeping again or just attempting to recover.
He doesnt move when I call his name, so I walk toward him and gently lay my hand on his shoulder to shake him awake. The second my fingers squeeze his shoulder, he gasps and sits up straight as if I just woke him from the middle of a dream.
Or a nightmare.
Immediately, he slides off the stool and onto very unstable legs. He begins to sway, so I throw his arm over my shoulder and try to walk him out of the kitchen.
Lets go to the couch, buddy.
He drops his forehead to the side of my head and stumbles along with me, making it even harder to hold him up. My name isnt Buddy, he slurs. Its Miles.
We make it to the front of the couch, and I start to peel him off me. Okay, Miles. Whoever you are. Just go to sleep.
He falls onto the couch, but he doesnt let go of my shoulders. I fall with him and immediately attempt to pull away.
Rachel, dont, he begs, grabbing me by the arm, trying to pull me to the couch with him.
My name isnt Rachel, I say, freeing myself from his iron grip. Its Tate. I dont know why I clarify what my name is, because its not likely hell remember this conversation tomorrow. I walk to where the throw pillow is and pick it up off the floor.
I pause before handing it back to him, because hes on his side now, and his face is pressed into the couch cushion. Hes gripping the couch so tightly his knuckles are white. At first, I think hes about to get sick, but then I realize how incredibly wrong I am.
Hes not sick.
So hard he isnt even making a sound.
I dont even know the guy, but the obvious devastation hes experiencing is difficult to witness. I look down the hallway and back to him, wondering if I should leave him alone in order to give him privacy. The last thing I want to do is get tangled up in someones issues. Ive successfully avoided most forms of drama in my circle of friends up to this point, and I sure as hell dont want to start now. My first instinct is to walk away, but for some reason, I find myself oddly sympathetic toward him. His pain actually appears genuine and not just the result of an overconsumption of alcohol.
I lower myself to my knees in front of him and touch his shoulder. Miles?
He inhales a huge breath, slowly lifting his face to look at me. His eyes are mere slits and bloodshot red. Im not sure if thats a result of the crying or the alcohol. Im so sorry, Rachel, he says, lifting a hand out toward me. He wraps it around the back of my neck and pulls me forward toward him, burying his face in the crevice between my neck and shoulder. Im so sorry.
I have no idea who Rachel is or what he did to her, but if hes hurting this bad, I shudder to think what shesfeeling. Im tempted to find his phone and search for her name and call her so she can come rectify this. Instead, I gently push him back into the couch. I lay his pillow down and urge him onto it. Go to sleep, Miles, I say gently.
His eyes are so full of hurt when he drops to the pillow. You hate me so much, he says as he grabs my hand. His eyes fall shut again, and he releases a heavy sigh.
I stare at him silently, allowing him to keep hold of my hand until hes quiet and still and there arent any more tears. I pull my hand away from his, but I stay by his side for a few minutes longer.
Even though hes asleep, he somehow still looks as if hes in a world of pain. His eyebrows are furrowed, and his breathing is sporadic, failing to fall into a peaceful pattern.
For the first time, I notice a faint, jagged scar, about four inches long, that runs smoothly across the entire right side of his jaw. It stops just two inches shy of his lips. I have the strange urge to touch it and run my finger down the length of it, but instead, my hand reaches up to his hair. Its short on the sides, a little longer on the top, and just the perfect blend of brown and blond. I stroke his hair, comforting him, even though he may not deserve it.
This guy may deserve every single bit of the remorse hes feeling for whatever he did to Rachel, but at least hes feeling it. I have to give him that much.
Whatever he did to Rachel, at least he loves her enough to regret it.
Six years earlier
I open the door to the administration office and walk the roll sheet to the secretarys desk. Before I turn and head back to class, she stops me with a question. Youre in Mr. Claytons senior English class, arent you, Miles?
Yep, I reply to Mrs. Borden. Need me to take something to him?
The phone on her desk rings, and she nods, picking up the receiver. She covers it with her hand. Wait around another minute or two, she says, nodding her head in the direction of the principals office. Weve got a new student who just enrolled, and she also has Mr. Clayton this period. I need you to show her to the classroom.
I agree and plop down into one of the chairs next to the door. I look around the administration office and realize this is the first time in the four years Ive been in high school that Ive ever sat in one of these seats. Which means Ive successfully made it four years without being sent to the office.
My mother would have been proud to know that, although it leaves me kind of disappointed in myself. Detention is something every male in high school should accomplish at least once. I have the rest of my senior year to achieve it, though, so theres that to look forward to.
I retrieve my phone from my pocket, secretly hoping Mrs. Borden sees me with it and decides to slap me with a detention slip. When I look up at her, shes still on the phone, but she makes eye contact with me. She simply smiles and goes about her secretarial duties.
I shake my head in disappointment and open up a text to Ian. It doesnt take much to excite people around here. Nothing new ever happens.
Me: New girl enrolled today. Senior.
Ian: Is she hot?
Me: Havent seen her yet. About to walk her to class.
Ian: Take a picture if shes hot.
Me: Will do. BTW, how many times have you had detention this year?
Ian: Twice. Why? Whatd you do?
Twice? Yeah, I need to rebel it up a little before graduation. I should definitely turn in some homework late this year.
The door to the principals office opens, so I close my phone. I slide it into my pocket and look up.
I never want to look down again.
Miles is going to show you the way to Mr. Claytons class, Rachel. Mrs. Borden points Rachel in my direction, and she begins to walk toward me.
I instantly become aware of my legs and their inability to stand.
My mouth forgets how to speak.
My arms forget how to reach out to introduce the person theyre attached to.