Haley Stevenson seems like she's got it all together: cheer captain, "Princess" of Juniper Falls, and voted Most Likely to Get Things Done. But below the surface, she's struggling with a less-than-stellar GPA and still reeling from the loss of her first love. Repeating her Civics class during summer school is her chance to Get Things Done, not angst over boys. In fact, she's sworn them off completely until college.
Fletcher Scott is happy to keep a low profile around Juniper Falls. He's always been the invisible guy, warming the bench on the hockey team and moonlighting at a job that would make his grandma blush. Suddenly, though, he's finding he wants more: more time on the ice, and more time with his infuriatingly perfect summer-school study partner.
But leave it to a girl who requires perfection to shake up a boy who's ready to break all the rules.
Each book in the Juniper Falls series is STANDALONE:
* Off the Ice
* Breaking the Ice
About the Author
JULIE CROSS lives in central Illinois with her husband and three children. She never wrote fiction before May of 2009, but since then, hasn't gone a day without writing. She is the author of The Tempest Trilogy.
Read an Excerpt
Tap ... tap ... tap, tap ... tap ... taptaptap.
I zoom in on the purple ballpoint pen, willing it to stop, sending it silent threats. But it won't listen. It's currently under the mercy of the blonde occupying the seat in front of mine.
Tap, tap, tap ... tap, tap ...
Maybe it would be easier to deal with if a sense of rhythm were involved. Maybe it would be easier to deal with if I didn't have the hangover from hell. And if I hadn't gotten up at five in the morning to hit the weight room before hockey practice.
Taaap, tap, tap, tap ... tap ...
My head is seriously about to explode. I shift my focus to the garbage can clear across the classroom. At least the nausea (and puking) subsided by the middle of hockey practice. I need to hydrate right now. Unfortunately, I'm trapped in this classroom for another seventy-two minutes before I get a water break.
I'm barely paying attention to what Mrs. Markson is lecturing about, and she's been at it — emphatic arm-waving and all — for thirty-seven minutes.
Tap ... tap, tap ... tap, tap.
I try to focus on the flowchart explaining the U.S. government chain of command, but the damn pen won't shut up. I blow air out of my cheeks and wipe sweat from my forehead. I probably smell like a brewery. Or possibly the rancid beer spilled on the floor of said brewery. I shouldn't have gone out last night. I shouldn't have even been in Longmeadow last night. Longmeadow is for Saturday nights. Not Tuesday. Not when I'm enrolled in a stupid-ass summer-school course (which I only signed up for so I could have room in my schedule for a dual-credit college Calculus class this fall). Not when I'm working my ass off to earn a starting position on varsity this fall.
For three years, I've been fine with JV, fine with whatever amount of game time I got. But thirty seconds on the ice in the state tournament last March changed everything. I'm hooked. It's all I can think about. This fall is my last year playing hockey, and if the Otters make it to state again, I need more than thirty seconds of ice time.
Tap, tap, tap ...
The sun emerges from behind a cloud and floods the room, making it hard to read the flowchart projected on the wall. Mrs. Markson heads over to adjust the window blinds. The tiny break is a sign. An opening for me to take action.
Half standing, I lean forward and wrap my fingers around the hand gripping the misbehaving purple pen. The pen stills, and I sigh with relief.
Haley Stevenson jumps, like she'd been in a daze and I've just burst her bubble. "What the —"
"Your pen. It's distracting."
"Distracting?" She looks about ready to shove me out of her personal space — the smell is probably getting to her. "How can a pen be distracting?"
I move my hand over hers, forcing the pen to tap several times against the desk — and I make sure to create the most gratingly inconsistent rhythm possible. "That's how."
"I have not been doing that," Haley insists.
We're in the very back of the room, so only a few students take notice of my impulsive handling of the tapping situation. Most are still scrambling to copy down notes. Mrs. Markson could have a career as an auctioneer if she wanted, the way she spits out information like we've all got five brains we can simultaneously use. Normally, the first day of school is a dud. Nothing gets done. But with summer school, the first day equals the first week. No time for small talk or wasting time.
I'm leaning over Haley's shoulder, her big brown eyes staring up at me accusingly. I have a clear view of her notebook. The flowchart, or any of the other projected notes we've been reviewing for more than thirty minutes, is nowhere to be seen. But she has written her name in several different styles of cursive, sometimes including her middle name — Allison — and sometimes adding an initial. She's also doodled some hearts, a few badly drawn geometric cubes, and, crammed into the side column of the page, written with slanted print a "Hump Day To-do List."
I refrain from snickering at the "Hump Day" reference. I'm too old for that. But, while holding her pen still, I do read this very important life-changing to-do list consisting of seven tasks essential to one's mid-June Wednesday survival in Juniper Falls, Minnesota:
1. Write cheers for July 4th demo
2. Teach Kayla B. (and maybe Kayla S.) newest 3-8 counts of competition routine
3. Check UCF site for tryout/clinic dates
4. Day 5 of teeth whitening
5. Underwear drawer
6. Download calorie counter app Jamie mentioned
7. Tumbling at 6 then make dinner for Dad
It isn't really my style to engage in conversation during class. Especially to comment on this list. Where would I even start? I mean, what happens if you miss Day 5 of a teeth-whitening adventure? Or I could comment on the ambiguous underwear drawer. That one definitely has my pounding head working on overdrive. But I don't comment on anything.
Now that my concerns have been addressed, I let go of Haley's hand, freeing the purple pen, and she immediately gives two quick taps against her desk.
All right. That's the last straw.
I pluck the pen from her fingers, tuck it behind my ear, and sink back into my seat. "I'm gonna have to hang on to this until the end of class."
Haley spins halfway around to face me, the surprise in her expression telling me that the most recent taps hadn't been F-you taps. "That's my only pen —"
"Miss Stevenson," our highly caffeinated teacher says, looking right at Haley. "If the president and vice president can no longer serve, who becomes president?"
Haley's face flushes before she's even fully facing forward again. "Um ... the first lady?"
The entire class laughs. Our middle-aged teacher — who takes Civics very seriously — doesn't laugh. Her face pinches like Haley's answer causes her physical pain. "Look at your flowchart, Haley. The answer is right in front of you."
Mrs. Markson's already swiped the flowchart from the projector and replaced it with the Bill of Rights. In front of me, Haley's entire body stiffens. I guess that's what happens when you're consumed with thoughts about your underwear drawer instead of copying notes.
Jesus Christ. Now I'm consumed with thoughts of Haley Stevenson's imaginary underwear drawer (imaginary not because it doesn't exist — I'm confident that it does — but because I've never seen it before). My gaze roams from her ankles, traveling the length of her smooth, very toned, bare legs until I reach the hem of the frayed jean shorts resting high on her thighs. Shorts she'd never be allowed to wear during the regular school year. And yeah, I get this dress-code thing now. I'm completely distracted. I've never had a class with the Princess of Juniper Falls before. It's a small town — one middle school, one high school — so we've always been in proximity to each other, but never this close, I guess.
Two rows over from us, Jamie Isaacs shoots his hand in the air. "It should totally be the first lady. Or a vote. Women voting. A whole bunch of women all voting at once."
"Thank you, Jamie, for granting women the right to vote," Mrs. Markson says drily.
I'm about to laugh with the rest of the class, but my sluggish hungover brain is too busy catching the fuck up. What the hell is Jamie Isaacs doing in summer school? Didn't he graduate last week?
That's one of the downfalls of all those dual-credit classes at the community college, and spending all but one week of junior year practicing with JV. I'm not up on all the latest gossip. Not that I'm close enough to the inner circle to get that info anyway.
"What is currently the governing rule, not what should, may, or will be in the future?" Mrs. Markson continues, gliding down the aisles with the largest stride her knee-length pencil skirt will allow. "Civics is not about creativity. It's about understanding the law and our rights as citizens of this country. So, who can tell me the position that is third in line to become president of the United States of America assuming the first two were deemed unavailable?" She scans the room, and her gaze finally rests on me, a hopeful expression already forming on her face. "Mr. Scott?"
I can feel Haley's and Jamie's eyes on me. I lay an arm over my notebook and lean on it. After several seconds, I finally shake my head. Mrs. Markson rolls her eyes and turns around, heading back toward the front of the room. With a great amount of force, she snatches the Bill of Rights and slams the flowchart back into place. She grabs a red dry-erase marker and makes a big effort out of circling "Speaker of the House."
We go through eight more projector slides before we finally get a break. By that point, I'm close to passing out from dehydration. I stumble out of the room and lean over the water fountain, chugging for a good minute.
When I fall back into my seat, already regretting the water binge, Haley Stevenson is turned around facing me.
"I need my pen back," she says.
"Sorry. Can't do that." I flip over another page in my notebook (at this rate, I'm gonna need a new notebook for tomorrow) and rub my temples. "I've confiscated it for the greater good. Executive decision."
In a motion quicker than I ever would have expected from her, Haley reaches out and rips my glasses right off my nose. Her face blurs in front of me. She carefully folds my glasses and then drops them into the front of her backpack. The backpack is scooted over until it rests between her legs.
Haley folds her arms across her chest. "My pen for your glasses."
I stowed her annoying pen in my back pocket when I got up to get a drink. I reach for it, but hesitate. "No tapping," I warn.
My vision isn't clear enough to be sure, but I think she rolls her eyes. "I did not —"
"Yes, you did." I hold the pen out, but grip the end tight.
Haley does the same with my glasses, not giving them up quite yet. "You owe me some notes. I couldn't write anything down for the last like hour or something."
I lift an eyebrow. "I didn't realize you needed the pen to take notes."
"What else would I need it for ..." Her voice trails off, her neck and face turning pink. She drops the glasses onto my desk, snatches the pen, and turns around.
After my glasses are back in place, my forehead relaxes and I watch Haley turn several pages over in her notebook, hiding the "Hump Day To-do List" she made earlier.
If I were Jamie Isaacs — or any other guy on my team for that matter — this would be the point where I'd bug her relentlessly about the underwear-drawer mention. I might be vying for more time under the hockey spotlight, but I'm not Jamie Isaacs. I'm not the guy who cracks jokes all the time and always talks a big game. It used to bother me, I used to wish I were more like him or Leo or Hammond, but I'm over it now.
Mrs. Markson gives us a five-minute warning. Since I'm already in my seat, I'm debating getting in a short nap when Haley turns back around to face me.
"What now, Haley?"
She flinches in surprise. "Do I ... I mean ... have we had a class together before?"
Haley Stevenson doesn't know my name. And I used hers so easily it probably seems like I'm the type to silently worship the popular kids. Whatever. She can think that if she wants.
"No," I say, and she turns pink again. She's embarrassed by my assumed embarrassment. "Not in high school," I add, then wait a beat before finishing. "But in day care, you used to shove Cheerios up my nose."
Her mouth falls open, forehead wrinkling. "You're kidding, right?"
The reaction is satisfying despite my headache. I shake my head, but offer nothing more.
She eyes me skeptically. "I would remember that."
I shrug. "You don't remember my name, so maybe you forgot other things?"
Haley sweeps her hair up into a ponytail, tying it with a band from around her wrist. "Forgetting and never being informed are two different things."
The textbook lying on my desk provides an opportunity for me to look busy and end this chat. Even though I've enjoyed messing with her, the fact that she doesn't know my name is a bit of a conversation killer.
Ten seconds later, Haley shouts out triumphantly, "Fletcher Scott!"
I glance quickly around the room, taking in all the faces now turned toward us. I slide down in my seat. Clearly the conversation reins have been swiped from me. "Well done. Now turn around and take those notes you're so worried about."
But Haley doesn't move. "Coach put you on varsity right before the state finals. When Joey Petrie pulled his groin. I had to scramble to find you a locker buddy. Luckily Becca had some free time."
Too many people are looking at us right now. My gaze shifts to the clock above the door. Isn't it time for another flowchart? "Tell Becca thanks for the oatmeal cookies."
"Aren't they the best?" Haley sighs. "You're lucky, you know? All the guys fight over Becca —" Instead of pink, she turns bright red this time and then shakes her head. "God, I didn't mean fight over her like that ..."
"Like what?" I offer, playing dumb.
"Everyone wants Becca as a locker buddy," she clarifies unnecessarily. "Anyway ... so the cookies? I helped her with that batch. They were good?"
No idea. Considering eating them probably would have killed me. "Best oatmeal cookies I've ever seen."
She looks pleased with herself, and I'm hoping that will result in her turning around. "I still don't believe you about the Cheerios at daycare thing. So what else do you know about me?"
Apparently, I've stepped unwillingly into an I-know-more-about-you pissing contest. What do I know about Haley Stevenson? Probably not nearly as much as she assumes. First off, she really did shove Cheerios up my nose when we were three. I know she dated Tate Tanley for a long time, but they broke up.
The other thing that I know about Haley Stevenson: my fifteen-year-old cousin, Cole, is hopelessly in love with her. Though I doubt he's ever said more than two words at a time to her. I also doubt that Haley realizes rising-star freshman varsity player Cole Clooney is related to me.
Haley huffs like my silence proves her win.
"I know that you ..." I say, and Haley lifts an eyebrow, waiting. "Have tumbling practice at six."
Her mouth falls open. "You read my —"
"I also know that you should probably focus on note-taking instead of socializing." I wave my hand, suggesting she turn and face forward again. "Sounds like you have some catching-up to do."
She blows the loose hair from her forehead and waits, like she's considering this carefully. "Whatever."
I sigh with relief when she finally turns, giving me a view of the back of her white tank top again. Our break ends, and Mrs. Markson goes back to her lecture.
For a while, I'm taking notes and enjoying the quiet. My body relaxes, and even my headache begins to fade.
The peace lasts about ten minutes. Then I hear the tap, tap, tap again. Not from the pen this time, but from Haley's leg bouncing up and down.
Hopefully, Mrs. Markson is willing to edit her seating chart. Otherwise, I'm never gonna make it through the summer.
I can't believe he read my list. Could I get any more cliché? God, what a disaster.
I'm too distracted the rest of class to actually learn anything. I've written random words in my notebook, but most likely I'm missing too much information for any of it to make sense. And to make matters worse, when I'm walking out of the classroom, Jamie beside me and Fletcher Scott two paces in front of us, Mrs. Markson stops me.
"You two ..." Her eyes narrow at Jamie and me. "Given the fact that you both are taking a second stab at this class, I highly recommend that you seek out different partners for our group work, understood?"
Jamie laughs, his head still held high. I turn bright red, of course. I hate this part of my life. The part that defies the typical Juniper Falls Princess résumé. Over a hundred years of princesses in this town, and I bet not one of them dropped out of Civics because they were getting a D. And that's without even mentioning how much I had to pester Mr. Smuttley, our guidance counselor, to get him to remove evidence of that D from my transcripts.
Now that I think about it, changing a transcript might be illegal. Does this mean I can't run for a political office?
Maybe if I had aced Civics, I'd be able to answer that question.
Excerpted from "Breaking the Ice"
Copyright © 2017 Julie Cross.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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