In the latest from the author of One Night, tragedy causes a young woman to struggle to keep her head above water, and the only one who can help her is the guy who’s been in the friend zone for the past year . . .
Every time life throws Zoe Adler a curve ball, she changes her appearance. Freshmen year—after almost following in her mother’s alcoholic footsteps—she said good-bye to her blonde, girl-next-door image and opted for jet black hair and piercings galore. After her brother Wyatt’s death, she escapes to the city to teach a summer art program for kids. Her black hair goes blue, and she finds solace in the arms of a longtime friend, in his heart, and in his bed—but her guilt makes her unable to accept the love he wants to give.
Spock might be the guy to save Zoe. But when she learns the truth about his past, the edge she’s teetered on since losing Wyatt drops out from under her. The girl who kept it together for everyone finally falls apart. Now Zoe must choose between drowning in guilt about Wyatt or asking for help. But even if she gets the help she needs, Spock may not be waiting for her when she’s ready to let love in.
Includes an exclusive excerpt of One Night
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Polka dots are perfect for any occasion. I’ve been saving this dress for a special one, and I guess today is . . . special.
I thought I’d need help with the zipper, but turns out the unexpected weight loss has its perks. My arm reaches it easily at the small of my back, pulling it up almost to the top, no problem. I look down at my breasts, mouth pursed in a pout. Amazing what can happen in a week.
“Come on, girls. Why is it you always shrink at the first sign of a skipped meal?”
They don’t answer. At least my mother won’t be able to complain about seeing my piercings through my clothing, as they will be well camouflaged by the loose fabric of the dress. Mom has her coping mechanisms, and I have mine.
I reach over my shoulder to pull the zipper the rest of the way and allow myself a small smile when I see the white polka dots on the cuffs of the three-quarter sleeves. I remind myself the notched collar sports the same design, white polka dots on black cotton, the rest of the dress a fitted bodice with an A-line skirt skimming my legs just above the knee. I see the dress in my mind’s eye the way it looked when I tried it on in the overpriced secondhand boutique in Chicago. It was only last month I went to sign the lease on the apartment I’ll be sharing with a stranger, only last month when I had no reason to forget to eat. Except now I’m the girl with the incredible shrinking tits, not that I let my eyes drift to the mirror to take in the evidence.
The dress is on, and I can argue its appropriateness by virtue of color. If Wyatt saw it, I know what he’d say. Bitchin’ dress, sis. I guess eighteen-year-olds can still get away with that word. Wyatt could, without affecting a surfer-dude accent and without any hint of irony. His bitchins were sincere.
“What about the hair?” I ask aloud, as if he can hear me. I shrug. People talk out loud to the dead all the time, right? Not like Jess is out there with her ear pressed to the door. So I continue. “I mean, is Mom going to freak about the dress more or the hair? I’m hoping the hair will cancel out the dress and vice versa. Then she won’t freak about either.” I chuckle and roll my eyes. “Or she’ll go off on both.”
I run my fingers through the longest part of my hair, my overgrown bangs, and assume it looks as it always does—only slightly more noticeable. The box of hair bleach and dye, a handy little kit, sits on the corner of my dresser, the remains of how I spent my night before the memorial. I read the directions again, reminding myself to wait one more day before washing to let the color set, then drop the box in the trash. Even though the color is permanent, the first wash is always an experience. The one part of this trip home that makes me laugh is turning my childhood shower into what looks like a Smurf crime scene when I wash the residual blue dye out of my hair tomorrow morning.
Well, guess it’s time to test the reaction of a much-harder-to-shock crowd. When I open my door, my roommate, Jess, and her boyfriend, Adam, sit waiting on the bar stools at the kitchen counter. Jess swivels back and forth, her nervous energy balanced only by Adam’s calm. When she sees me, she stands, and Adam does the same. They look at me expectantly, like I’m supposed to say something first. I glance back and forth between the two of them, Adam in a charcoal button-down, black pants, and a royal blue tie. Not that I ever aim to blend in, but Jess’s simple black dress and cardigan will be great fodder for Mom’s crusade to “get Zoe to tone it down a bit.” Note to self: Don’t stand too close to Jess at my parents’ house.
I blow my bangs out of my face and nod in Adam’s direction.
“Like the tie, Carson. Maybe you should be my date instead.”
He doesn’t answer, only glances at Jess, who then turns to me, those wide eyes of hers searching for what she thinks I’m trying to hide.
“Geez,” I say. “Who died?”
My breath catches with that last word, but I don’t falter. I won’t falter.
“Zoe.” Jess’s voice is a gentle plea as she strides toward me, hesitating before lifting her arms to pull me into a hug.
I let her because this is my job today, letting those who want to grieve with me think they’re comforting me. Because really, that’s what comforts them. But when I rest my head on my friend’s shoulder—when I wrap my arms around her and reciprocate the gesture, for one small moment I let it all unravel, the thread inside me that’s pulled so taut, the one keeping me from collapsing into the grief I know is there. But I pull away before letting it find me. Today I have to stay one step ahead, a pace beyond its grasp.
“Too soon?” I ask, clearing my throat and slipping back into my role.
Jess holds my gaze and offers a conciliatory smile.
“Too soon,” she says, and then adds, “So, blue, huh?”
I nod. “What do you think? Just did it last night and haven’t really looked at it.”
Jess is used to my chameleonlike abilities, having lived with me through countless boxes of hair dye for each time my blonde roots grow in, but she’s never asked why I refuse to let it grow out. Means I don’t have to answer.
Adam looks up and shrugs.
“You look great, Zoe. You always do.”
I let out a shaky breath. “Okay, then. I’ll take always looking great.” I turn my gaze back to Jess. “See? Was that so hard?” I tease. If we can just talk to each other like we always do, then life can be like it always was. Nothing has to change.
“How’s your brother?” Jess asks, and I suck in a breath. “Shit. I’m sorry,” she continues. “I mean Zach. He already went home?”
I take two steps back so I can lean against the wall. I’m still standing. That’s what’s important.
“Yeah. He helped my parents with the arrangements. Guess the guy who plans the best frat parties also throws one hell of a memorial service.”
“Zoe . . .”
I wish she’d just stop with the name, saying it like that, asking me for something I’m not planning on giving. A knock at the door gives me a momentary reprieve.
“I swear if it’s that kid with the menus again, I will freak. Like, who delivers menus at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, anyway? Better yet, I’ll use his menu to make a sign that says We only eat at Yu’s!”
But when I open the door, it’s not the menu kid. And that thing Jess was searching for when she stared at me is here now, at the surface, looking at a guy I said good-bye to six months ago. Not that he was mine to leave. Just friends, I remind myself. We were only ever friends.
But this friend of mine is supposed to be traveling the country with his band, living his life on the road until the end of summer. Instead, he’s here.
“Spock?” That’s all I can choke out, the nickname I gave him when I met him last fall at a comic book convention, wearing Vulcan ears. Friend or not, I didn’t want to risk impure thoughts about a guy named Zach, a name he shares with my twin brother. The one who’s home already, planning a memorial.
I take him in, his always shaggy brown hair a little longer than I remember. His clothes are wrinkled, like he’s been sitting in them too long, but he’s wearing the requisite funeral attire—black pants and a button-down shirt, open at the collar. No tie, but I laugh even as the first tear escapes. The shirt is dark blue. Looks like all the men got the memo to color coordinate with me.
Without taking my eyes off Spock, I tell Adam, “You’re off the hook, Carson. I guess I have a date.”
Spock drops the duffel bag hanging from his shoulder, and his hands cup my cheeks.
“I’m so sorry, Zoe. I came as soon as I heard.”
My head spins toward Jess. As soon as he heard?
“Thank you for the text,” he says to her over my shoulder.
My breath hitches, and he pulls me to his chest.
“My brother died,” I say, each word stealing my breath. “My baby brother died.”
It’s the first time I’ve said the words, the sentences punctuated with a sob. Shit. I was doing so well. But in his arms I come undone, and no one says a word. No one says it will be okay, that everything will be fine. Because we all know it won’t.
So I give myself this—a few minutes in the arms of a guy who never wanted more than friendship from me, a guy who never knew friendship barely scratched the surface of how I felt for him. I give myself time to cry without interruption or false promises. Without expectation that I’ll be the one to hold it together for everyone else. Because that’s my role, has always been my role in the Adler family. Zoe keeps her shit together so you don’t have to. I should print that on business cards. Not now, though. Now I get to be selfish.
For a few long minutes, I get to grieve.
I ring the doorbell. It’s my house. At least it was growing up, but I do it anyway because something doesn’t seem right. This isn’t home if Wyatt doesn’t live here anymore.
But of course it’s my house. I shake my head, trying to clear it, and Spock squeezes my hand. I don’t remember him taking it, but there’s my palm, in his. Jess and Adam stand a couple of feet behind us, and no one questions my behavior. They just wait, like they know I’ll figure the puzzle out. And I do, reaching for the storm door and pulling it open before taking hold of the doorknob, which is unlocked. Why wouldn’t it be? Friends and family are coming to celebrate the life of Wyatt Adler today. Everyone is welcome, and everyone will come because everyone loved Wyatt.
The house is already bustling with our next-door neighbors, Mrs. Watson and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Linnie, setting up food in the dining room. My heart swells and then contracts as I remember last New Year’s Eve. Wyatt and his buddies came home from their snowboarding trip to spend the holiday with their families. Linnie had no plans, so she hung with us, playing board games and watching Love Actually, my mom’s favorite holiday movie. They didn’t even flirt, Wyatt and Linnie. They just snuggled on the couch as if they’d been doing it for years, and when midnight came, he kissed her. Right there in front of all of us.
“What?” he asked me, since my mouth must have been hanging open. “Not like I’m going to kiss you or Mom, so . . .” And he kissed her again.
That was my brother. He and Linnie were a year apart in school, didn’t hang with the same crowds. But that night, there was no school. No crowds. Just good timing between a boy and a girl who might have been. But Wyatt didn’t date, not in the traditional sense. He was too busy taking weekend trips camping or hiking . . . or his latest, BASE jumping, not that my parents knew he was doing it. And now?
I suck in a breath and pull Spock toward the dining room. Mrs. Watson sees me first, and she taps Linnie on the shoulder. When she turns, our eyes meet. Hers glisten, as if she’s been on the verge of tears since she got here but has been waiting.
I let go of Spock so I can hug her, and she isn’t waiting anymore.
She hiccups a soft sob against me, and I rub her back.
“I know,” I say, and she nods, her golden brown hair swishing over my hand. My hair was always light, like Zach’s—true blondes. At least the last time I saw it, it was. But Linnie’s hair matches Wyatt’s, darker with those sun-kissed golden highlights no matter what the season. The vision of him I have in my head fits perfectly with that of the girl in my arms. They looked like they belonged together. And maybe they did—but never got to find out.
“Linnie, honey.” Mrs. Watson taps her daughter’s shoulder. “Let’s go to the bathroom and get you cleaned up. Zoe has lots of people she needs to see.”
She’s right. I do. But there’s a comfort in standing here with this girl who I know got Wyatt. Something about the way she sighs into my shoulder, the way she clearly waited for me to break down. So I let her.
Wyatt Adler was the miracle baby who never should have been born. Years of infertility treatments finally led to me and Zach being conceived and later to my mom’s alcohol addiction rising to the surface. Our parents thought the family headcount would remain at four. But when a recovering alcoholic and the husband who stayed with her through the ordeal get pregnant on their own years later, it’s a gift from the universe. A gift who could do no wrong in their eyes until he went and jumped off a building for a thrill, a faulty parachute the reason why we’re all here today.
Linnie squeezes me tight before pulling away, sniffling before she speaks.
“I . . . I’m so sorry, Zoe. I don’t know why I . . .”
“Please,” I say. “Don’t apologize for missing Wyatt.” I don’t mean missing. She loves him. That’s what we share, but I won’t make her bear the weight of that word. I don’t need to say it to know it’s true. But I ache to know how much she hurts. I feel Spock at my side but don’t look at him. I know what it’s like to want what I can’t have.
Linnie nods, backing toward the bathroom with her mom, and she holds my gaze until it’s cut off by my father. Spock, Jess, and Adam still surround me, but no one has said anything since we walked in. I close my eyes and inhale, one moment of virtual peace before I have to put on the show for the next person—and everyone else after that.
“Zoe Bear,” my dad says, an instant grin spreading across his face despite the sadness in his eyes. “Give your dad a much-needed hug, and then introduce me to your friends.” Though youngish still, at forty-six years old, Dad looks five years older since I saw him at Christmas. But he holds the smile for me. Like father like daughter. I guess I learned from the best.
For my dad, he’s pretty dressed up. Black polo shirt, pressed khakis, and boat shoes—a big difference from the various rock band T-shirts and old jeans he wears on the job as the head line cook at our family’s diner. The silver strands in his blond hair shine in the sunlight filtering through the windows.
Dad’s arms open wide, and I step right into them, his Zoe Bear for a small moment.
“Dad,” I half whine quietly into his ear, and I don’t have to say any more for him to know what I’m thinking. Doesn’t matter that I don’t smoke. It’s almost a requirement of entering your twenties to know what weed smells like. The pungent aroma wafts from my dad’s skin and clothing like he overdid his cologne . . . if cologne smelled like pot. Dad doesn’t even drink. From what they’ve told us, Dad hasn’t had a sip of alcohol since Mom got sober almost twenty years ago. He’s not an addict, just a guy who loves his wife and family.
“Don’t tell your mom, honey. She doesn’t need anything else to upset her today. And I . . . I need a little something to take the edge off.”
It takes only a second to imagine the depth of my father’s grief. For all the years of preemptive lectures Zach and I got about being careful at college, of hearing addiction is hereditary, of wanting so badly to rebel against my parents’ clean example—nothing hits me harder than seeing my dad risk the kind of backlash he’d get from Mom just so he can take the edge off.
“She’ll smell it,” I warn, no reproach in my tone. Who am I to judge? We all have our crutches. Plus it’s not like there’s a manual for the right way to deal with grief. We just have to deal.
“I’ll throw on some more aftershave,” he says with a soft smile. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“It’s okay,” I whisper before pulling away.
“Dad,” I say, turning to my silent but supportive posse. “This is Jess and Adam.”
Jess raises a hand to shake but drops it a second later. Then both arms open in an awkward gesture of what I assume is meant to be a hug, and my dad, ever the one to ease an awkward situation, steps right up to the plate and embraces her.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Jess says quietly, and my dad thanks her as he straightens up. He extends a hand to Adam.
“And the basketball player,” he says, and Adam gives him a half smile. “Sorry your last season was cut short. You had a hell of a run when you were on the court, though. How’s the knee?”
He may be high and in mourning, but Dad’s a big enough college basketball fan to know who Adam Carson is as well as remember the foul that meant knee reconstruction and an early end to Adam’s college basketball career in late November. The corners of my mouth turn up in a small grin, though. Because that game was the beginning for him and Jess.
What’s the saying? When one door closes another opens? Jess had her own stuff to work through last year, and it took meeting Adam—and I like to think me, as well—to realize she had a new door to walk through. I used to believe stuff like that. Maybe I still do, but only as something that happens to other people. I don’t see how a life ending can be any sort of new beginning, not when the life itself was still so new.
“Thank you, Mr. Adler.” Adam wraps an arm around Jess and squeezes her close. “The knee’s getting stronger every day. Even started to play a little, recreationally of course.”
Jess leans into him, and I look down at my hand. There it is, in Spock’s again. I must have let go to hug Linnie, then my dad. But he’s still here, patient and quiet and here.
“And this is Spock,” I say, watching the skin between my dad’s brows crinkle.
“It’s Zach, really,” he says, and he and my dad shake hands. “We met at a comic book convention last fall. There were Spock ears . . .”
My dad raises his right hand, offering Spock the Live long and prosper sign. “I get it. Same name as her brother. Say no more.”
“We’re just friends, Dad!” I blurt the words, not entirely sure where the defense comes from. Because yeah, back in the fall when we met, I thought he was hot. He loved that I didn’t drink, that we could hang out without having to party. And yes, there was chemistry. But he held back. And I didn’t push forward because his band was leaving on tour at semester’s end. Because even if he wasn’t traveling the country for six months, we went to different schools. In different states.
And I was a too scared to admit I wanted someone who might not want me.
“Uh, sweetheart, I wasn’t implying . . .”
“It’s okay, Mr. Adler. I mean, she’s right. We are. Friends, I mean. Just friends. I actually haven’t seen Zoe since November, but when I heard . . . I left my tour as soon as I heard.”
Someone gasps, and then I realize it’s me, my hand over my mouth and everything.
“The tour’s still going on?” I ask, my hand still muffling my words.
Spock’s eyebrows rise, and I drop my palm before asking again.
“The tour? You left the band and came all the way here?”
He gives me this look, halfway between a smile that says, How could you doubt me? and a look of recognition that says, You had no reason to think I’d come.
So he nods. “I left the tour.”
He pauses and clears his throat, and a shock of hair falls over his eyes. My hand itches to push it out of his face, to touch some part of him other than his hand, if only to prove that I can, that we are the kind of friends we were six months ago despite whatever hung between us.
Instead, another voice interrupts the moment.
“Pay up, Dad.”
It’s my brother. Zach. The one who is still alive. Is that how I’ll differentiate now? Instead of my twin brother and my little brother—the one who’s living and the one who’s not?
“You guessed pink. I said purple, and blue is definitely closer to my guess.” He holds a hand out, palm up. My dad rolls his eyes and reaches for his wallet, pulling out a crisp twenty.
“Only because there is blue in purple am I giving you this one, but next time it has to be exact.”
“You bet on my hair?” I ask as my brother scoops me into a hug, doing what we do, coping the best way we know how. Messing with each other and acting normal, though I doubt anything will ever feel normal again.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he says in my ear, a tightness in his voice he saves just for me.
He pushes me an arm’s length away to look at me.
“It’s my hair,” I say. “Half that twenty belongs to me.”
Zach shrugs, rips the bill in two, and gives me half.
“Dude, not cool,” my dad says, and Zach and I burst out laughing. “What?” he asks. “I can use that word, especially when my son pulls a dick move like that.”
Now Jess, Adam, and Spock are laughing too. My dad is by no means old, but my dad on weed is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
“Just means we have to spend it together,” Zach says as the laughter dies down but doesn’t yet cease. That’s when my mom enters the room, and somehow this all seems so wrong. This brief bit of lightness now feels like betrayal.
We’re laughing, but my mother stands before us, her reddened eyes fixed on something past me. I follow her gaze to the fireplace, to the mantel covered with pictures of Wyatt and the urn that holds his remains.
All smiles fade. I think about my dad not having a chance to splash on that extra aftershave. I think about Zach pulling that crap with the twenty because he knew it would make me smile, yet I know he’s been here for days already, in the thick of it, making sure the house got cleaned, bills got paid, because my mother wasn’t getting out of bed and my father couldn’t shut down the diner completely. I think about a man and woman, still in love and together after thinking they’d made it through the worst, parents about to become empty nesters and finally get back all the time they gave to their kids. They’ll still get that last bit with me and Zach graduating and moving out.
But they had it all wrong. They made it through the bad. But the worst—the worst is now.
We lay on the grass in my backyard, Spock and me. Side by side, two parallel arrows pointing in the same direction but not intersecting.
Jess and Adam drove back to school, both needing to study for finals. I guess I should be happy that I got some sort of bereavement allowance from my professors, all of them agreeing to base my final grades on the work I’ve done up until now and exempting me from my exams. But I’d almost prefer the distraction. Though I can’t imagine walking through graduation now. Or celebrating.
It’s dark, the chill of early May in Illinois more pronounced with the absence of someone I love hovering in the air.
“Is it okay?” he asks. “That I came today?”
Spock’s arm leaves his side, and his hand finds my shoulder. I turn my head to face him, the cool blades of grass tickling my cheek.
“What makes you doubt me wanting you here?” I force a smile. “Is it because I flung myself into your arms when you showed up at my door, or the fact I haven’t let you leave my side the entire day and night?” Humor—that’s my crutch. Yet I can’t ignore the twist in my gut that reminds me—he is here because my brother is not.
His face breaks into a soft smile, and then he lets out a long breath. “I’ve been sort of shit with communication since I left.”
When I don’t argue with him, he continues.
“I was kind of shit with communication when I was around too,” he says.
I turn my head back to the sky. “You don’t need to say this,” I tell him. “Really. We’re good. I knew what I was getting myself into when we started hanging out. You made it very clear that early graduation and the tour were what mattered. And we . . .”
“You mattered, Zoe. Jesus, is that what you think?” He lets out a long sigh. “That’s why I didn’t ask you for anything more. It’s because you mattered, from the day I met you, that I didn’t let it go further than friendship.”
That word hangs in the air—friendship. We haven’t spoken in months. We’re barely acquaintances at this point. Yet here he is, the person who hasn’t left my side since he showed up this morning, and there’s nowhere else I want him to be.
I think back to meeting him at that damn comic book convention, how adorable—and freaking sexy—he was in those ridiculous Vulcan ears. We lived a state apart, a clock ticking away the time until he would leave to travel the country.
Just friends, I told him. Fine by me. Because what else do I tell a guy I just met who’s one-dimple smile twisted my insides into impossible knots? How would I get the chance to know him, to keep him in my life for as long as possible if I wasn’t okay with being just friends?
“Fine,” I say, wanting to believe him. “I mattered. And you were shit with communication.”
The texts were daily to begin with. Then weekly, monthly, and once early spring hit, all but nonexistent.
“Come here,” he says, and I hesitate for a few long moments. Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted—him to want me like this? Or is he here because Jess didn’t know what else to do, so she texted the one person she thought could make any of this better? Maybe it’s the exhaustion. Maybe the chill in the air. Or perhaps it is the aching need to fill the hole inside, the one carved deep with the loss of my brother. I think it’s a combination of the three that drives me to scoot into the crook of his arm, the warmth of his body against mine immediate and necessary.
“How are you so warm?” I ask, burrowing into what feels like a blanket of safety.
“If I said werewolf, would you hold it against me?” I can hear his smile, imagine the dimple that used to make my knees weak, not that he ever knew. No one knew, except Jess.
“I might hold it against you if you’ve been hiding your team Jacob fandom from me.”
For the first time in days my smile isn’t forced.
He laughs, and my head bounces with the rise and fall of his chest.
“I’m more of an Astounding Wolf-Man fan, actually. The Robert Kirkman comic?”
I smile again, even though he can’t see it, both of us still looking toward the cloudless sky, stars sprinkled like freckles across the face of night.
“Fandom approved,” I say, closing my eyes for minute, sinking into his warmth.
A few more deep breaths, and then he speaks. “You think you can forgive me for disappearing—for letting the tour take over?”
My finger traces circles on his chest. “You didn’t owe me anything. There’s nothing to forgive.”
He takes in a breath, and I think he’s going to argue this assertion, but then he just exhales.
This would be my opening, the perfect time to ask him why he’s here. For me? For him? Because he couldn’t say no when Jess called or else he’d be a total dick? But I don’t want answers right now. For now I just want to be.
“Do you believe in reincarnation?” His voice is quiet but earnest, and I can feel his hope trying to burrow into my own psyche.
We’re not a religious family. Spock can see that from today’s display. No funeral, no religious official to preside over our self-made memorial service. Just food and stories and pictures of Wyatt’s short stay on this planet.
“I’m not sure what I believe,” I say. How do I tell him I had my doubts before, that now there’s no way I can believe in any sort of higher power that could dream up a world where Wyatt doesn’t exist?
I believe in disappearing, in things ending, in loss. These are my constants. This is what’s true. But I only give myself tonight to indulge in the grief and in the comfort of someone’s arms. Because even though we haven’t really begun, I can imagine our ending. He left once before.
But he’s here now.
As if he hears my thought, his arm slides out from under my neck, and he rises up on his elbow.
I roll to my side too, so we’re face-to-face, my cold nose drifting toward his.
“I just wonder,” he starts, “if people do come back to us—in another way or shape. A way to begin again, you know? I’m not sure what I believe. But the idea gives me hope.”
“Hmmmm,” I say. “Not sure about that hope thing.” I try to make my voice light, to put on the it’s all good smile. But even in the dark I doubt my delivery.
“I know I believe in you,” he says, and his head shifts, his nose missing mine as his lips and my lips do what they’ve never done, what they wanted to do months ago, what I need them to do now.
His lips are warm and full and mine for the taking, and I try to ignore the taste of salt, the recognition that something I never admitted to wanting is finally here but coupled with such staggering pain I don’t know what I’ll remember more—the feel of Spock’s lips on mine or the taste of my own tears.
But I don’t stop. I don’t chastise myself for doing something that makes me feel good on a day when the rules say I need to be sad. Because underneath the tears, I taste the coffee he drank while my dad asked him all about Pleasantville, his band, and the lead singer’s favorite movie. I taste warmth and reassurance as I part my lips and let his tongue slide gently past my teeth. And then there it is, in the pit of my stomach, overriding everything telling me I shouldn’t be doing this. Need. An aching, burning need to be touched—to feel pleasure instead of pain.
That’s when I pull away.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “Maybe this wasn’t the right time.”
But I shake my head, press my palm to his cheek. I don’t want him to misread me, but I also don’t want to forget myself enough to take him right here, right now, in my freaking yard while the late-night mourners remain. Because although that would obliterate everything for the time being, I have enough sense to know this would be best without an audience.
“No,” I assure him. “I’m glad you did it.” Having him here today beats what it would have been like to do this without him. If he wants to give me more, I’ll take it. Because more feels a hell of a lot better than nothing at all.
His face relaxes into a smile. “Forgot about that tongue ring,” he says. “Still the same one?”
I nod and stick my tongue out, flashing him the Superman symbol, a gesture I usually love. But tonight all it does is remind me how much of a hero I am not.
“Thank you,” I say. “I just . . . I should probably head in to help clean up.”
He swipes a thumb across my cheek, and I feel it streak wet against my skin. He kisses me once more, soft and sweet, and I wonder how much he’s thought of me in the past six months, if his actions are a product of missing me or distracting me.
Right now I’ll take either one.
* * *
After getting Spock situated on the couch later that night, I head upstairs. We can discuss where he goes from here in the morning. I assume he’ll rejoin the tour, but I didn’t want to ask. I don’t want to anticipate him leaving when he only just got here.
I knock on Zach’s door even though it’s partly open and I can see the bottom half of his legs stretched out on the bed.
“Come in,” he says, his voice hoarse and groggy, and I wonder if I woke him but then realize his light is on, so he’s probably not quite asleep yet.
“Jesus, Zach,” I say, waving my hand at the smoke slowly seeping from his lips. “What the fuck? You got Dad high?”
The judgment I suspended for a grieving father finds its way into my words for my brother.
He waves me off with the same hand that holds the disappearing joint. “You color your hair . . . I do . . .”
He trails off, and at first I think it’s because he’s too high to finish his thought—my brother who knows the risk of addiction in our family, who knows that risk is the exact reason why I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since freshman year—too high to finish a fucking sentence. But he drops the joint in the bowl next to him and presses the heels of his hands to both eyes. My throat tightens with the threat of tears too, but I swallow them down for Zach.
“Hey,” I say, nudging him toward the center of the bed so I can sit next to him. “I just worry about you, okay? I can keep an eye on you at school, but what’s going to happen now that we’re almost done? We graduate in a few weeks, and then I’ll be in Chicago while you’re back here.” Alone, I think. He’ll be here alone with his grief and Mom’s and Dad’s. “I can postpone the program, you know. They’ll offer it again next year. We can both work at the diner this summer and wait for things to, I don’t know, get better?”
He sits up straight and turns to face me, eyes regaining some clarity.
“No fucking way, Zoe. You’d never survive here in this tiny town. It’s not like I’m staying either. I just need to figure out where I’m going first. But you? Look at you, my little sister, the artist. You’re meant for the city, for this chance to get your talent noticed.”
He stares at me hard, as if the conviction in his voice isn’t enough. Because it’s not.
“How am I supposed to make sure you’re okay?” I ask.
Now Zach smiles and even gives me his annoyed, big brother eye roll, as if three minutes constitute enough time to dub him the older and wiser sibling. “The city is, like, only ninety minutes away, Z.”
I smile at his use of our nickname for each other. It started when we were toddlers, according to Dad. Zach did it first, called me Z as if somehow my three-letter, two-syllable name was just too much for him. So I started calling him Z back, and it stuck.
“And whenever Mom and Dad drive me batshit, you know I’m coming to crash on your floor for the weekend,” he continues. “Plus . . .” He pauses, his smile fading. “Someone needs to keep an eye on them.”
My face grows hot, and the burn runs all the way up to my eyes, the stinging in my tear ducts too much to blink away. I shake my head as the tears fall, realizing this is one of my biggest worries too—my parents.
Zach pulls my head to his shoulder and lets me cry without spouting any of the bullshit we don’t know yet to be true—It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this.
He rubs my back, though, and does say one thing. “Wyatt would hate this. Remember when Grandpa Al passed away two years ago? You and I were too freaked out to get up and say anything, so Wyatt got up there and told the story about Grandpa giving him the talk?”
A tiny bubble of laughter finds its way through the tears, because yes. No one could forget Wyatt standing up at a podium, in a funeral home, telling everyone how on his thirteenth birthday his grandfather gave him advice instead of a gift: Save it for the shower so your mother doesn’t have to buy you any more socks.
“Mom was the first one to laugh,” I say. “She’d just lost her second parent, and with one inappropriate but true memory, Wyatt had her crying for a whole other reason.” Zach nods and rests his chin on my head. “What would he say now to change the source of our tears?” I ask.
Zach sits up again so I can see him raise his eyebrows.
“First he’d rip me a new one for getting high and for getting Dad high, saying we aren’t all in if we have to cover up life to get through it. Then he’d take us cliff diving or something equally terrifying—after we sobered up, of course—during which I’d probably shit myself from fear, thus causing hysterical laughter from anyone present and everyone he’d tell when we got home.”
I smile. “Sounds fun.”
Zach sighs. “It would be,” he admits. “Everything with Wyatt was fun even if you didn’t want to do it.”
“Like pants-shitting cliff diving?”
“Like pants-shitting cliff diving.”
“You know this isn’t a problem for me, right, Z?” His eyes shift to the joint resting in the bowl. “I know it can be hereditary, but it doesn’t mean it is. This isn’t a habit. It’s just for now.”
I nod. Zach made it through four years of college living in a fraternity house and drinking as frat boys do. It wasn’t a problem for him, not yet, at least. But the possibility would always make me worry.
“Can I ask you something?” I start, not sure I want to continue, but Zach nods. I take a breath and let it out slowly. “Do you think he was reckless?”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Once again, I read this (just like ONE NIGHT) in one sitting-- I even snuck in chapters at work. This is one hell of an emotional and, at times, dark story, but one I so desperately needed. I LOVED this book. Zoe and Spock's story is a rough one, but so, so worth it. Their love for each other, their need to help each other through hell and high water is amazing. And Zoe and Jess's friendship is one to be rivaled. I cried, I laughed, I swooned, and I loved this story. ALL the stars to ONE LIFE.
Finally Zoe and Spock's story!! I've been waiting - rather impatiently - since I read the last page of One Night. I definitely was NOT disappointed. Their story is emotional, fun, sad, and perfect. After the death of her brother Wyatt, Zoe's life seems to be spiraling out of control. When Spock shows up at the funeral, it seems he might be the one person who can help her get life back to normal. With secrets between them, will their newly confessed love be able to survive?? Believe me when I say you want to read this one and find out. I highly recommend it.