From a fresh new voice on the contemporary YA scene, My Life with the Walter Boys centers on the prim, proper, and always perfect Jackie Howard. When her world is turned upside down by tragedy, Jackie must learn to cut loose and be part of a family again.
Jackie does not like surprises. Chaos is the enemy! The best way to get her successful, busy parents to notice her is to be perfect. The perfect look, the perfect grades-the perfect daughter. And then...
Surprise #1: Jackie's family dies in a freak car accident.
Surprise #2: Jackie has to move cross-country to live with the Walters-her new guardians.
Surprise #3: The Walters have twelve sons. (Well, eleven, but Parker acts like a boy anyway)
Now Jackie must trade in her Type A personality and New York City apartment for a Colorado ranch and all the wild Walter boys who come with it. Jackie is surrounded by the enemy-loud, dirty, annoying boys who have no concept of personal space. Okay, several of the oldest guys are flat-out gorgeous. But still annoying. She's not stuck-up or boring-no matter what they say. But proving it is another matter. How can she fit in and move on when she needs to keep her parents' memory alive by living up to the promise of perfect?
Ali Novak wrote My Life with the Walter Boys when she was just 15 years old. First a hit on the online community Wattpad, this debut novel has already been read over 33 million times and is loved by readers around the world.
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I didn't own a single pair of jeans. It's crazy, I know, because what sixteen-year-old girl doesn't have at least one pair, maybe with a tear in the left knee or a heart doodled across the thigh in Sharpie?
It wasn't that I disliked the way they looked, and it had nothing to do with the fact that my mother had been a fashion designer, especially considering that she used jeans in her collections all the time. But I was a firm believer in the phrase "dress to impress," and today I was definitely going to need to make an impression.
"Jackie?" I heard Katherine call from somewhere inside the apartment. "The taxi is here."
"Just a minute!" I scooped a piece of paper off my desk. "Laptop, charger, mouse," I muttered, reading off the rest of the checklist. Opening my satchel, I searched for my possessions to make sure they were safely tucked inside. "Check, check, check," I whispered when my fingers brushed against all three things. With a bright red pen, I marked an X next to each of them on my list.
There was a knock on my bedroom door. "You ready, honey?" Katherine asked, poking her head inside. She was a tall woman in her late forties, with golden hair that was cut into a mom bob and starting to gray.
"I think so," I told her, but my voice cracked, revealing otherwise. My gaze snapped down to my feet because I didn't want to see the look in her eyes-the sympathetic one that I'd seen on everyone's faces since the funeral.
"I'll give you a moment," I heard her say.
When the door clicked shut, I smoothed down my skirt as I glanced in the mirror. My long, dark curls were straightened and tied back with a blue ribbon like always, not a single strand out of place. The collar on my blouse was crooked, and I fidgeted with it until my reflection was seamless. I pursed my lips in annoyance at the purple circles under my eyes, but there was nothing I could do to fix the lack of sleep that was causing them.
Sighing, I took one last look around my room. Even though my entire checklist was crossed off, I didn't know when I would be returning, and I didn't want to forget anything important. The space was strangely empty, since most of my possessions were on a moving truck bound for Colorado. It had taken me a week to pack it all, but Katherine had helped me with the huge task.
Clothing had filled most of the boxes, but there were also my collection of Shakespeare plays and the teacups my sister, Lucy, and I had collected from every country we had ever visited. As I glanced around, I knew I was stalling; with my organizational skills, there was no way I'd forget anything. The real issue was that I didn't want to leave New York-not one bit.
But I didn't have a say in the matter, so with reluctance I grabbed my carry-on. Katherine was waiting for me out in the hall, one small suitcase sitting at her feet.
"Have everything?" she asked, and I nodded my head. "All right, let's get going then."
She led the way through the living room and toward the front door, and I trailed slowly behind her, running my hands over the furniture in an attempt to memorize every last detail of my home. It was hard, which was strange considering I'd lived here my entire life. The white sheets thrown over the furniture so dust wouldn't frost the fabric were like solid walls, holding my recollections at bay.
We stepped out of the apartment in silence, and Katherine paused to lock the door. "Would you like to look after the key?" she asked.
I had my own set tucked in my suitcase, but I reached out and took the small silver piece of metal from her hands. Unfastening my mother's locket, I let the key slip down the delicate chain so it could rest against my chest, right next to my heart.
We sat on the plane in silence. I was trying hard to forget that I was currently moving farther and farther away from my home, and I refused to let myself cry. For the first month after the accident, I never left my bed. Then came the day where I miraculously pulled myself out from underneath my comforter and got dressed. Since then, I'd promised myself that I would be strong and composed. I didn't want to go back to that weak, hollow person I'd become, and that wasn't going to change now. Instead, I focused my attention on Katherine as she clenched and unclenched the armrest, her knuckles going white each time she did.
I only knew a few things about the woman sitting next to me. First was that she was my mother's childhood friend. They grew up in New York and attended Hawks Boarding School together, the same school my sister and I had been enrolled in. Back then, she was known as Katherine Green, which brought me to the second thing I knew about her. During college she met George Walter. The two married and moved to Colorado to start a horse ranch, George's lifelong dream. Finally, the third and most noteworthy piece of information I knew about Katherine-she was my new guardian. Apparently I'd met her when I was little, but it was so long ago that I couldn't remember. Katherine Walter was a complete stranger to me.
"Afraid of flying?" I asked, as she let out a deep breath. Honestly, the woman looked like she was going to be sick.
"No, but to be completely truthful, I am a bit nervous about-well, taking you home," she said. I felt my shoulders tense up. Was she afraid that I was going to go off the deep end? I could assure her that wasn't going to happen, not if I wanted to get into Princeton. Uncle Richard must have said something to her, something about me not being okay, even though I was perfectly fine. Katherine caught my look and quickly added, "Oh no, not because of you, honey. I know you're a good kid."
Katherine's smile was sympathetic. "Jackie, honey, did I ever tell you I have twelve kids?"
No, I thought as my mouth dropped open, that definitely wasn't mentioned. When he decided that I was moving to Colorado, Uncle Richard did say something about Katherine having kids, but twelve? He'd conveniently left that little detail out. A dozen kids. Katherine's household must be stuck permanently in a state of chaos. Why would anyone even want to have twelve children? I could feel the tiny wings of panic fluttering inside my chest.
Stop overreacting, I told myself. After taking a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, I pulled out a notebook and pen. I needed to find out as much as I could about the family I was going to live with, so I could be prepared. Sitting up in my seat, I asked Katherine to tell me about her kids and she agreed enthusiastically.
"My oldest is Will," she began, and I started writing.
The Walter Boys:
Will is twenty-one. He's in his final semester at the local community college and is engaged to his high-school sweetheart.
Cole is seventeen. He's a senior in high school and a talented auto mechanic.
Danny is seventeen. He's also a senior in high school and the president of the drama club. He's Cole's fraternal twin.
Isaac is sixteen. He's a junior in high school and is obsessed with girls. He's Katherine's nephew.
Alex is sixteen. He's a sophomore in high school and plays way too many video games.
Lee is fifteen. He's a sophomore in high school and a skater. He's also Katherine's nephew.
Nathan is fourteen. He's a freshman in high school and a musician.
Jack and Jordan are twelve. They're in seventh grade and twins. They believe that they will be the next Steven Spielberg and always have a video camera with them.
Parker is nine. He's in fourth grade. He looks innocent but loves tackle football.
Zack and Benny are five and are in kindergarten. They're twins and crazy little monsters with potty mouths.
I looked over what I wrote, and my stomach dropped. This was a joke, right? Katherine didn't just have twelve kids, but twelve boys! I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about the male species. I went to a private school for girls! How was I ever going to survive living in a house full of boys? Didn't they speak their own language or something?
As soon as the plane landed, Uncle Richard was going to hear an earful from me. Knowing him, he was probably wrapped up in an important board meeting and wouldn't be able to take my call, but I couldn't believe him! Not only was he pawning me off on some woman I didn't know, but he also was dumping me with a pack of boys. He said he was doing what was best for me, especially since he was never home, but over the past three months, I'd gotten the feeling that he just didn't feel comfortable being a parent.
Richard wasn't my real uncle, but I'd known him since I was a little girl. He was my dad's college roommate, and after graduating, they became business partners. Every year on my birthday, he would bring me a bag of my favorite jellybeans and a card with fifty dollars in it.
In January, Richard became my guardian, and to make the situation more bearable for me, he moved into the penthouse on the Upper East Side where my family lived. At first it was weird with him in the house, but he kept to himself in the spare bedroom and soon we fell into a comfortable routine. Normally, I only saw him at breakfast since he always worked late into the night, but last week that all changed. When I came home from school, the dinner table was set with what must have been his best attempt at a home-cooked meal. Then he told me I was moving to Colorado.
"I don't get why you're making me leave," I told him after ten minutes of arguing.
"I explained this already, Jackie," he said, his face pained as if this decision was ripping him away from the only home he'd ever known and not me. "Your school therapist is worried about you. She called today because she doesn't think you're coping well."
"First of all, I never wanted to see that stupid therapist," I argued, slamming my fork on the table. "Secondly, how can she even suggest I'm not coping well? My grades are excellent, if not better than first semester."
"You've done a fine job in school, Jackie," he said. I could hear the but coming. "However, she thinks that you're throwing yourself into your work as a way to avoid facing your problems."
"My only problem is that she has no clue who I am! Come on, Uncle Richard. You know me. I've always been studious and hardworking. That's what it means to be a Howard."
"Jackie, you've joined three new clubs since the start of the semester. Don't you think you're spreading yourself a bit thin?"
"Did you know that Sarah Yolden received a scholarship to go study an endangered species of plants in Brazil over the summer?" I asked instead.
"She got to publish her findings in a science magazine. She's also first chair for violin and got to perform in Carnegie Hall. How am I supposed to compete with that? I can't just have good grades if I want to get into Princeton," I told him coolly. "My application needs to be impressive. I'm building it up."
"And I understand that, but I also think a change of scenery might be beneficial for you. The Walters are wonderful people and are happy to take you in."
"A change of scenery is relaxing on the beach for a week!" I exclaimed, rocketing out of my seat. Leaning over the table, I glared at Uncle Richard. "This is cruel. You're sending me across the country."
He sighed. "I know you don't understand right now, Jackie, but I promise this is a good thing. You'll see."
So far, I still didn't understand. The closer we got to Colorado, the more nervous I became, and no matter how many times I told myself that things would be fine, I didn't believe it. I chewed my lip until it was raw, worrying over how difficult it would be for me to fit into the Walters' lives.
When the plane landed, Katherine and I made our way through the airport to find her husband.
"Now, I told the kids last week that you're moving in, so they know you're coming," she chattered as we pushed through the crowds. "Also, I have a room for you. I just haven't been able to clean it out yet, so-oh, George! George, over here!"
Katherine jumped up and down, waving to a tall man in his early fifties. I could tell Mr. Walter was a few years older than his wife because most of his hair and scruff were completely gray, and age lines were starting to streak across his forehead. He was wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt with ripped jeans, heavy work boots, and a cowboy hat.
When we reached him, he pulled Katherine into a hug and stroked her hair. It reminded me of my parents, and I cringed and turned away. "I missed you," he told her.
She pecked him on the cheek. "I missed you too." Pulling away, she turned to me. "George dear," she said, taking his hand. "This is Jackie Howard. Jackie, this is my husband."
George looked uncomfortable as he sized me up. After all, how exactly do you greet someone who just lost her entire family? Nice to meet you? We're happy to have you? Instead, George held out his free hand for me to grasp and muttered a quick hello.
Then he turned back to Katherine. "Let's get the luggage and go home."
Once all of my suitcases were packed into the bed of the truck, I climbed in the backseat and dug my iPod out of my jacket. George and Katherine were chatting quietly about the flight, so I pulled on my headphones, not wanting to hear any more of their conversation. As we drove farther away from the city and deeper into the country, I became more upset. We were surrounded by green fields and hills that dipped up and down along the pavement, but without the tall, proud buildings of New York City, I somehow felt exposed. Colorado was beautiful, but how was I ever going to live here?
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the truck pulled onto a gravel road. In the distance, I could see a house at the top of a hill, but just barely. Was all of this land really theirs? When we got to the top, I realized that it wasn't a single house; it looked more like three homes put together. I guess you need a lot of space for twelve boys.
The grass desperately needed to be mowed, and the wooden front porch could have used a paint job. The lawn was covered in toys, probably the younger boys' handiwork. George hit one of those small clicker-thingies that was clipped onto the visor, and the garage door started to open. A bike fellover, followed by a few more toys, which blocked the truck's way into the parking spot.
"How many times do we need to tell them to clean up after themselves?" George grumbled to himself.
"Don't worry, dear. I'm on it," Katherine said as she unbuckled her seat belt and slid out of the car. I watched as she moved the mess so her husband could pull in. When the car was finally parked, George let the engine die, and we sat in the dim silence. Then, he turned around in the front seat to face me.
"You ready, Jackie?" he asked. He looked me over and frowned. "You're looking kind of pale."
Of course I looked pale! I had just flown halfway across the country with a woman I didn't know because my family was gone. On top of that, I was going to have to live with twelve kids, all of whom were boys! This wasn't exactly a top-ten day for me.
"I'm fine," I said, muttering my automatic response. "Just a little nervous, I guess."
"Well, the best piece of advice I can give you 'bout my boys"-he began while unbuckling his seat belt-"is their bark's worse than their bite. Don't let 'em scare you."
How was that supposed to be reassuring? George was watching me, so I nodded my head. "Um, thanks," I said.
He gave me a small nod and then got out of the car, leaving me alone to compose myself. As I stared out the windshield, quick images started to flash before my eyes like the pages of flipbook: my parents in the front seat of our car teasing one another, my sister in the backseat singing along with the radio, the flicker of another car, and the wheel spinning out of control. Then twisted metal, red. It was the nightmare that had been keeping me up since the day my family died. Now, apparently, it was here to haunt me during the daylight hours as well.
Stop! I screamed to myself and squeezed my eyes shut. Just stop thinking about it. Gritting my teeth together, I opened the door and hopped out of the car.
"Jackie!" Katherine called. Her voice drifted through an open door at the back of the garage, which led to what must have been the backyard. Slinging my carry-on over my shoulder, I emerged into the sunlight. At first, the only thing I saw was her standing on a pool deck, waving at me as the sun glared into my eyes. But then I saw them in the water. They were splashing and goofing around-a completely shirtless bunch of gorgeous guys.
"Come here, honey!" Katherine said, so I had no other choice but to join her on the deck.
I climbed up the wooden steps, hoping that my clothes weren't rumpled from the flight, and unconsciously moved my hand up to smooth out my hair. Katherine was smiling at me as two young boys stood next to her, clinging to her pants. Must be the youngest set of twins, I decided before turning to face the rest of the group. Much to my discomfort, everyone was staring at me.
"Boys," began Katherine, breaking the silence, "this is Jackie Howard, the friend of the family your father and I told you about. She will be staying with us for some time, and while she's here, I want you all to try your best to make her feel at home."
That seemed like the opposite of what they wanted. All the boys were staring at me like I was a foreigner invading their own personal country.
The best thing to do is to make peace, I told myself. I slowly raised my hand and waved. "Hi, guys. I'm Jackie."
One of the older boys swam forward and pulled himself out of the pool, making the muscles in his tan arms bulge. A spray of water flew in all directions as he shook his messy bangs out of his eyes, just like a wet dog would, only sexier. Then, to finish it off, he ran his fingers through his sun-bleached blond hair, combing it back into golden white streaks. The boy's red swim trunks hung dangerously low, flirting between inappropriate and just enough room for imagination.
I took one look at him and my heart fluttered, but I quickly pushed the stirring feeling away. What is wrong with you, Jackie? I screamed at myself.
His gaze flickered over me casually, and the water droplets caught in his eyelashes sparkled in the sunlight. He turned to his father. "Where's she going to stay?" he questioned, ignoring me as if I weren't there.
"Cole," George responded in a voice that was meant to reprimand his son. "Don't be so rude. Jackie is our guest."
Cole shrugged. "What? We're not running a hotel here. I, for one, am not sharing a room."
"I don't want to share either," another boy complained.
"Me either," someone else added.
Before a chorus of complaints rang out, George held up his hands. "Nobody is going to have to share or give up their room," he said. "Jackie will have an entirely new room."
"New room?" Cole asked as he crossed his arms over his bare chest. "Where's that?"
Katherine shot him a look. "The studio."
"But, Aunt Kathy!" one of the other boys started to say.
"You did have a bed moved in there while I was gone, right, George?" she asked, cutting off one of her nephews.
"Of course. Not all of the supplies have been moved out, but it will have to do in the meantime," he told his wife. Then he turned to Cole and gave him a look that said "knock it off." "You can help Jackie move her things," he added. "No complaining."
Cole turned back to me, his gaze unnerving. My skin blazed like a bad sunburn where his eyes touched my body, and when they lingered too long on my chest, I crossed my arms in discomfort.
After a few tense seconds, he shrugged his shoulders. "No problem, Dad," he said.
Cole cocked his head and offered me a smirk that said "I know I'm hot." Even with my limited knowledge of boys, a twisting in my stomach told me this boy in particular was going to be a problem. Maybe if I could learn to deal with him, the rest wouldn't be as bad. I risked a quick glance at the other boys and my shoulders slumped. The scowls plastered across most of their faces were not a good sign. They seemed to want me here as little as I wanted to be here.
Katherine and George disappeared into the house, leaving me to the wolves. I waited awkwardly on the deck for Cole to help me with my luggage. He was taking his time, slowly drying off with a towel that had been flung over one of the many pool chairs. I could feel the boys watching me, so I kept my eyes focused on one of the swirled knots in the wooden deck. The longer Cole took, the more intimidating the staring became, so I decided to wait for him in the garage.
"Hey, wait," someone called as I turned to leave. The screen door slid open, and another boy stepped out of the house. He was the tallest of them all and probably the oldest too. His golden hair was pulled back into a short ponytail, and the few strands that weren't held back had curled up around his ears. His strong jawline, thick chin, and long, straight nose made the glasses he was wearing look small compared to the rest of his face. His forearms were toned and his hands looked rough, most likely from years of working on the ranch.
"Mom said I needed to introduce myself." He crossed the deck in three long strides and held his hand out for me to shake. "Hi, I'm Will."
"Jackie," I said and slipped my hand into his. Will smiled at me, and his tight grip crushed my fingers just like his father's had.
"So you'll be staying here for a while? I just heard," he said, jabbing a finger over his shoulder and gesturing at the house.
"Yes, it seems so."
"Cool. I don't actually live here anymore since I'm in college, so you probably won't see me much, but if you ever need anything, just let me know, okay?"
By now, all of the boys had climbed out of the pool to dry themselves off and someone snorted at Will's comment.
I did my best to ignore it. "I'll make sure to remember that."
Will, on the other hand, did not. "Are we all playing nicely?" he asked, turning toward his family. When no one responded, he shook his head. "Have you idiots even introduced yourselves yet?" he demanded.
"She knows who I am," Cole said. He was sprawled in one of the plastic lounge chairs, hands tucked casually behind his head. His eyes were closed as he basked in the sun, a smug smile playing on his lips.
"Never mind him. He's an ass," Will said. "Over here is Danny, the ass's twin." Although there was no mistaking they were brothers, Cole and Danny were far from identical. Danny closely resembled Will, especially in height, but he was much skinnier and his chin was covered in scruff. He looked rougher than Cole, less pretty boy.
"That's Isaac, my cousin," continued Will, pointing to a boy who stood out due to his midnight black hair. He had the same facial features as the other boys, but was clearly from different parents.
"This is Alex." A younger-looking version of Cole pushed his way to the front of the group. Since getting out of the pool, he had pulled on a baseball cap, his blond hair curling over the edges, but he was still without a shirt and was sporting a horrible farmer's tan. I gave him a nervous nod, and he nodded back.
"Lee, also my cousin, is Isaac's younger brother." Will gestured to another boy with curly black hair, which desperately needed to be cut. His face was blank, but his dark eyes flashed with anger when I acknowledged him, so I quickly looked away.
Next, Will introduced me to Nathan. He was a scrawny teen, but I could tell that when he grew, he would be just as attractive as his older brothers. His sandy blond hair looked brown since it was wet, and hanging from his neck was a guitar pick on a silver chain. Then there were Jack and Jordan-the first set of identical twins. They were both wearing the same green swim trunks, which would have made it impossible to tell who was who, except that Jack was wearing glasses.
When Will introduced Parker, I realized that I wasn't alone. She stepped forward, and I understood why I hadn't realized there was another girl before now. Parker was wearing an orange T-shirt and swim trunks, both heavy with water and clinging to her skin. Her hair was cut into a short bob-nearly as short as some of her brothers. I thought back to the list I made on the plane and remembered that Parker liked tackle football. Maybe that was why I'd assumed she was a boy.
"Hi, Parker," I said excitedly and offered her a big grin. It was nice to know that there was another girl in the house.
"Hi, Jackie." Parker said my name as if it was something funny and the smile slipped off my face. She leaned down and whispered something to the two boys I had yet to meet-the youngest set of twins. A wicked grin crept onto both of their faces.
"And finally we have-" But before Will could finish introducing me, the pair shot out from the line of Walters and bulldozed into me like I was football player. I thought I would be able to keep my balance, but my knees buckled and I fell back-straight into the pool. I paddled back up to the surface, sputtering and gasping for air. I could hear most of the guys laughing.
"Got ya!" cried one of the twins as he stood at the edge of the pool. He was a cute little kid who still hadn't lost his baby fat. Freckles covered his face and his yellow hair curled all over. "I'm Zack and that's my twin, Benny!" When he pointed next to me, I looked over to see an exact replica of the smiling kid break the surface of the water.
"Zack, Benny! What the hell is wrong with both of you?" Will demanded. "Someone get Jackie a towel!" He stuck out a hand to help me up, and soon I was dripping on the side of the pool. It was too early in spring to be swimming. How are they not freezing? Someone handed me a red Power Rangers towel, and I quickly wrapped it around myself to cover the now see-through white blouse I was wearing.
"I'm really sorry about that," Will said, before shooting the youngest twins a glare.
"The only thing I'm sorry about is that he gave her a towel," someone said. I whipped around to see which boy it was, but they were all standing together silently, trying to keep the grins off their faces. Taking a deep breath, I turned back to Will.
"It's fifine," I said, my teeth chattering, "but I'd like to change into something dry."
"I can help with that," another voice joked. This time the boys couldn't contain their laughter.
"Isaac!" Will snapped. He glared over my shoulder at his cousin until the boys quieted down. Then he turned back to me. "Your bags are in the car?" he asked. Shivering from the cool spring air, I was only able to nod my head. "Okay, I'll start unloading and someone can show you to your room."
As Will retreated off the deck, I felt myself shrink. My only friend so far had just left me with the enemies. Taking a deep breath of air, I gulped and turned back around. The Walter boys looked at me, their faces vacant. Then, everyone started to grab their towels and clothes lying around on the deck before heading back into the house without another word to me.
Only Cole was left. An awkward thirty seconds passed before his mouth jerked up into a half grin. "Are you just going to stare at me, or do you want to go inside?" he asked. Cole was hot-his damp hair had dried in a dreamy, I-just-had-sex kind of style-but his overconfident attitude made me clam up.
"I want to go inside," I mumbled quietly.
"After you." He flourished his hands and bowed.
Taking a deep breath, I gazed up at my new house. With its yellow shutters and rude additions that must have been added onto the house with each new Walter child, it was nothing like the penthouse back in New York. Throwing one last glance at Cole, I sucked a mouthful of air into my lungs and stepped inside. This might be where I have to live and I'm going to try to make the best of it, I thought, but it will never be my home.