Today's Reading

Three years later . . .

CHAPTER 1

Hendricks didn't know what pissed her off more: starting over or becoming a cliché.

Back at her old school, she'd waged her own private war on clichés. She'd had rules and everything: no burn books or mean-girl comments. No clamoring to be named homecoming queen. No dating the high school quarterback.

"Good thing I'm not a quarterback," her ex-boyfriend, Grayson, had said, brow furrowed. "You have anything against soccer players?"

"Only if you're the captain of the team," Hendricks had told him, teasing, and when he'd pouted she'd added, "Hey, I didn't know you were going to ask me out when I came up with the rules."

Which was true. Rule or no rule, everyone knew it was borderline impossible to reject Grayson Meyers. He had a gravity that drew people in. A smile that said trust me, and a deep, throaty voice that made him seem older and more mysterious than he actually was. Of course now, after everything that'd happened, Hendricks couldn't think about his smile or his voice without feeling a rush of shame.

Shame that she should've known better, should've followed her own rules. Shame that, really, all of this was her fault.

The back seat of her parents' car felt suddenly hot and airless. Hendricks closed her eyes, pretending she was in her closet back home. She imagined coats rustling against her cheeks, shoes pressing into her legs. The low drone of the car radio and her parents' murmured voices sounded far away, almost like they were muffled by the other side of a door.

Breathe, she told herself and her lips parted, air whooshing out. She'd spent most of the last two months hiding in that closet, and it was surprisingly comforting to imagine being there now. She'd always felt safe there. But it was over two hundred miles away. And it didn't belong to her anymore.

She opened one eye, head tilted toward the car window. Drearford's Main Street rushed past her face, blurry beyond the icy glass. People clutched their jackets closed as the wind picked up and whipped through the bare trees.

"But if we take Metro-North, we should be back around midnight," her mother was saying from the passenger seat, thumbs tapping her phone screen. "One a.m. at the latest."

"Maybe we could stay overnight, just this once. The contractors could always meet us in the morning." Her father had lowered his voice, like he thought Hendricks might not hear him.

A pause, and then, "I . . . really wouldn't feel comfortable with that, yet." Her mother spoke softly, too, but they were only sitting two feet away. Hendricks felt rather than heard the pause in their conversation, and pictured their eyes flicking to the rearview mirror, casually, like they weren't checking on her.

She kept her eyes trained on the window, watching her breath mist the glass.

Drearford, New York, was one and a half hours north of Manhattan and nearly four hours from Philadelphia. Almost—but not quite—too far to drive in a single night. Population: 12,482. Current weather: twenty-two degrees and gray. Gray like the sky was sucking the life from its surroundings, leaving trees and grass and bodies of water colorless and covered in a thin layer of frost. Philadelphia—where Hendricks had lived until a week ago—was also cold in January, but it was a bright, glittering kind of cold. This place just looked dead.
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