Rule #1: Don't get attached.
Amber lives by strict rules to survive her mother’s love life: Always keep your eyes on the horizon and never get close to anyone connected to Mom's boyfriends.
But after they move in with Kevin, the latest of her mom's “soul mates,” the rules become increasingly difficult to follow. Kevin’s daughter, Cammie, keeps acting like Amber’s friend, even though she’s definitely not. And Jordan—star basketball player, hottest boy in school, and Cammie's best friend—keeps showing up at the most inconvenient moments.
Amber has reasons for every one of her rules, and following them is the only way to protect her heart when her mom inevitably moves on. But as she spends more time with Kevin, his daughter, and especially Jordan, she starts to wonder if the rules might be worth breaking this time.
Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, Rules We're Meant to Break is a charming, heartachingly real story of family and young love by debut author Natalie Williamson.
Praise for Rules We're Meant to Break:
"Vibrant and funny and completely relatable. ... The perfect read for anyone wanting to be swept away." —Danielle Stinson, author of Before I Disappear
"Rules We’re Meant to Break is one of those young adult contemporaries that I truly resonated with... What an amazing debut! I cannot wait to see what Natalie Williamson writes next!" —The Write Kind of Love
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|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
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OCTOBER, SENIOR YEAR
Rule number one for surviving my mother's love life? Always keep your eyes on the horizon. That's why instead of putting my things away in my new bedroom, I'm alternating between writing an English essay that's not due for two weeks and obsessively refreshing the admission status page on KU's website. Good grades and a college two and a half hours away from here. That's what's on my horizon right now.
"Amber," a voice says, and I look up to see my mom standing in the doorway. She raises an eyebrow and looks from me to Buffy, my German shepherd, who is stretched out next to me on the bed.
"You know what."
I sigh. Kevin, Mom's new boyfriend and the owner of this house and this bed, is not a pet person. He doesn't want Buffy on the furniture. Mom had to know I'd break this rule, but I don't think she expected me to do it on the first day. "Buffy, off."
Buffy shoots me a hurt look and slinks off the bed.
"Thank you," Mom says, her gaze flickering between me and Buffy and all the unopened boxes of my things. "Are you taking a break?"
"Uh, yeah." I dig my toes under the pillows at the head of the bed and nod at my laptop. "Had to do some homework. I put all my clothes away, though." I don't mention that other than that and Buffy's food and water bowls, I haven't touched a thing.
Mom looks at the closet, her expression dubious. "What about your pictures and posters? Your books?"
I shrug. "I'm still trying to figure out where they should go."
Lie. I just don't see the point in unpacking when I'll be leaving for college in ten months. Ten months really isn't that long, and considering Mom's track record with guys, we'll probably be out of here before then anyway. The longest she's ever been with someone was five years, and she hasn't come close to that record in a while.
"Well," Mom says slowly. "Okay. You can get your stuff put away on your own time. I won't rush you." Then she smiles and looks around the room, like the beige walls and puke-green curtains are the greatest thing she's ever seen. "But isn't this room nice, Amber? A king-sized bed and your own bathroom. Pretty cool, huh?"
It is nice, if you like that hotel room vibe. Which I don't. "I still don't see why I couldn't keep my bed."
"Because this one's bigger," she says, like that explains everything.
"I guess." It may be bigger, but it isn't mine.
Mom sighs, clearly frustrated that I'm not willing to buy into her enthusiasm. "Are you hungry? Kevin and I thought we could go to New Market to try that new salad place."
Ugh. The last thing I want to do is go to dinner with Mom and Kevin. All they'll want to talk about is where to put Mom's furniture, and whether all her baking pans are going to fit in the kitchen cabinets, and how life is going to be snowflakes and rainbows from now on. I doubt I'd be able to keep a straight face. Or keep myself from asking Kevin if he's aware that he's the sixth guy my mother has called The One.
"No thanks," I say, pushing myself upright. "I'm gonna take Buffy for a walk."
Mom starts to protest, but I've said the magic word: walk. Buffy's tags jingle as she pads over to the door. She looks back at me over her shoulder and wuffs softly, and I get up to grab a sweatshirt and shoes.
"Okay," Mom says, her mouth a thin line again. "I'll go back down with you."
Downstairs, I hear Kevin in the kitchen. "Just have him put wax on the end to get him through the night," he's saying, "and then we'll get that wire snipped first thing in the morning. Yup, come on in at eight. Uh-huh. No, I don't think so ..."
Kevin is an orthodontist — he and Mom met when she decided to get Invisalign after her last breakup — and it seems like there is always some kind of crisis happening with one of his patients. This morning he got a call from a middle school girl in hysterics because her rubber band colors didn't match the dress she bought for her school dance tonight. He spent twenty minutes on the phone consoling her, and then left me and my mom to finish loading the U-Haul so he could go help the kid. Luckily we only had smallish boxes left at that point, but it still sucked.
"Well is it really digging into his cheek?" Kevin says now, as I bypass the kitchen and head for the front door. "I think the wax will work, but if you want, I could —"
Bingo. Looks like I had the right idea about taking a walk now instead of later. Something tells me Mom and Kevin's dinner is going to get pushed back awhile.
Buffy sits patiently while I clip on her leash. When that's done, I turn back to see Mom standing in the middle of the living room with her arms crossed tightly over her chest.
"I'll see you guys later, I guess," I say.
She nods. Opens her mouth like she wants to say something, then closes it. I wait a beat, to see if maybe she'll try again. But she doesn't. So I open the front door and go.
* * *
The air is crisp, cold for October, and the sky is already getting dark as Buffy and I set off down our new street. Buffy's ears are pricked forward and she's checking everything out, but I stop paying attention to where I'm going as soon as my feet hit the pavement. I know this neighborhood well, weirdly enough. My best friend, Hannah, and I drove through here all the time when we first got our licenses sophomore year. She had a huge crush on Will Hoefling, this senior who lived here, and seeing his car, in his driveway or elsewhere in the neighborhood, always gave her the ultimate thrill.
Those drives helped me learn pretty much all the twists and turns of this place, which I guess is a good thing since I live here now. Even after Hannah got over Will we still came through here every once in a while to check out our favorite houses, which were usually so big or so ridiculous that we couldn't imagine actual people living in them. Our absolute favorite, for both the bigness and the ridiculousness, was The Castle.
The Castle is just like how it sounds, complete with turrets and a tower and a porte-cochère over the driveway, with an iron gate that drops down to close it. It looks too big to be allowed. Like it was scooped up from some fairy-tale world and dumped here on a lot so tiny it doesn't even have a front yard. I didn't know this until a few weeks ago, when Mom was giving me the hard sell about us moving in with Kevin, but the other guy in Kevin's practice lives there. She said that they "do dinner" a lot and that we would probably be invited. The prospect is a little disturbing. I can't help wondering if I'll have to put on a big, poufy dress and a wig like old British royalty in order to be let inside.
I don't realize I'm heading toward The Castle until I'm turning onto the street. It's automatic, I guess, a route so worn into my brain that I don't even have to think about it. I stare at it as Buffy and I come around the bend and walk slowly around the cul-de-sac, wondering how much schmoozing I'm going to have to do in there before Kevin gets dumped.
Suddenly I notice a sound, different from the rest of the night sounds. Someone's dribbling a basketball. There's a pattern to it: three dribbles, then the swishing of the net. Like how my dad taught me to shoot free throws when I was little and he was still around. I look over my shoulder, trying to figure out where the dribbling is coming from, but before I can pinpoint it the pattern is interrupted. Instead of the swish I'm expecting there's a loud bang, and then a guy's voice is yelling, "Watch out!"
I duck on instinct and there's a whooshing sound as something large flies over the top of my head. A second later there's a rubbery thwack as that something — the basketball, I assume — lands somewhere very close behind me and rolls off down the street.
"You okay?" that same voice asks as I straighten back up. "That was a close one."
"I'm good," I say, but it comes out strangled because I can see him now, standing at the end of the driveway to the left of The Castle, lit up from behind by the motion light hanging over the garage. And I know who he is. Jordan Baugh. I can't believe I didn't notice him before.
"You sure?" Jordan says, taking a step closer.
"Yup," I say, nodding furiously and backing away. I jerk my thumb over my shoulder and say, "I'm just gonna go get your — ball."
Oh my God, I am an idiot.
"Oh, it's okay," he says, and to his credit he doesn't laugh at my weird stumbling over the word ball. "I can get it, just let me —"
But I don't let him finish. I drop Buffy's leash, say, "Chill," and turn and run off down the street.
It takes me a while to find the ball where it's gotten wedged under a neighbor's car, so when I finally make it back to the end of Jordan's driveway I'm half expecting him to have given up and gone back inside. He's still there, though, standing next to Buffy, who hasn't moved since I left except to lie down on top of her leash. She's staring up at him and he's looking back. As I watch he smiles down at her and says, "Aren't you a good dog?" and it's almost too adorable for me to handle.
God, forget that I can't believe I didn't notice him when I started down the street — I can't believe I didn't know he lives in this neighborhood. That seems like something I should have known, at least through Hannah, who views it as her life's mission to keep track of the permanent residences of the hot boys at our school.
And Jordan is hot. He's one of those guys I've always noticed. He's got this sort of effortlessly cool thing going on — blond hair that can't decide if it wants to fall over his forehead or stick up all over the place, these light icy-blue eyes, and a pretty amazing set of biceps thanks to his tenure as the star shooting guard on the basketball team. I haven't seen him shirtless since he volunteered for the dunk tank during Spirit Week freshman year, but if his arms are any indication of what he's got going on under there, I wouldn't mind getting a chance to look again.
But wow, that is not what I need to be thinking about right now. Not if I want to act semi-human when I'm face-to-face with him again. So I take a deep breath and steel myself as I walk back over to him, basketball held out in front of me. He takes it and tips his head to the side, watching me now instead of Buffy. "Thanks. Did you just tell your dog to chill?"
"Um, yeah," I manage.
"Nice." It comes out like Nice. Like he's actually impressed.
"Sure." He smiles at me and it's all too much.
I give myself a shake and bend to pick up Buffy's leash. When I straighten up, I clear my throat. "I'd better go. Sorry for interrupting you."
He shakes his head. "You're fine. I missed the shot, remember?"
"Right," I say, taking a step back. "I'll let you get back to it."
"Sure," he says, his smile fading a little. In ... disappointment? That can't be right. He doesn't even really know me. "See you around, Amber."
"See you," I say, turning to leave. Buffy hesitates for a second before falling into step beside me.
I can feel him watching me as I walk away, and when I glance back after a few houses, he gives me a little wave. Heat rushes to my face as I wave back, then give a gentle tug on Buffy's leash so we can pick up the pace. Still, I can't help smiling to myself as we reach the end of the street and turn back toward Kevin's house. This move may be a total disaster, but maybe, if I'm lucky, my new neighbor could be a silver lining.CHAPTER 2
The next morning I have to open at work, which for me is The Pet Shop in New Market. I've loved it since the day I found Buffy tied up to a tree outside, and I've been working there since I turned sixteen, so over two years now. I do a little bit of everything, but since my eighteenth birthday in September the biggest part of my shifts has been teaching dog obedience classes. Normally Sundays are pretty busy for me, but this is an off week, so this morning I just have a couple of private lessons. The first is an hour-long class with a college girl named Mia and her lab-mix puppy Ringo. Ringo is sweet, but he jumps like he's spring-loaded, and Mia is totally afraid to tell him no.
"Okay, Mia," I say, smiling at her as she comes into the glassed-off training area. "Ready to get some work done?" She gives me a nervous smile, nods, and unclips Ringo's leash. He makes a beeline for me, his awkward baby legs moving at warp speed as he runs across the floor. He gets one half jump in before I say, "Ringo, off," turning my body to the side and stepping back so he can't make contact with my legs. And, miracle of miracles, he doesn't try jumping again. He just comes over to my feet and waits patiently until I give him a click and bend down to scratch his head.
"How do you get him to do that?" Mia wails.
"It's all about the body language and the tone," I tell her as I straighten up.
Ringo trots back over to her and starts jumping up on her legs. He gets high enough to lick her face. Mia shoves him away with a mumbled "No," and I shake my head. Blushing, she stops and takes a deep breath.
"Show me that sidestep thing again," she says, squaring her shoulders.
By the end of the session, we've made some good progress. Mia's "off" command is much more powerful, and she's getting better at using her clicker and bending down to pet Ringo so he won't want to jump up and lick her face. Since I have a break before my next lesson, I walk up front with them when we're done.
"You're doing great," I tell her, grinning, as we stop by the exit and I bend down to scratch Ringo's head one last time.
"You really think so?" she asks, her tone eager.
"Really. You guys make a great team."
She beams at me. "Thanks, Amber. Same time next week?"
I nod. "Yep. I betcha you'll be even better by then."
"We'll try," she says, and then she wraps Ringo's leash tightly around her wrist and goes. Ringo makes it about three steps before he starts pulling so hard he could probably move a dog sled all by himself. I bring a hand up to cover my smile. We'll definitely have to work on leash manners next.
On my way back to the lesson area, I pass by Stephanie, my boss, who's out training a new cashier on register one.
"Any word yet?" she asks.
She means about KU. Stephanie is the one who told me about the behavioral science program I want to do there. She's been asking me if I've heard back every shift for the past two weeks, which is how long it's been since I applied. I shake my head. "Not yet. Rolling admissions don't roll as fast as I want, I guess."
"They never do," she says, laughing. "You keep me posted. And bring that dog of yours in soon, okay?"
Stephanie has always had a soft spot for Buffy and spoils her rotten whenever I bring her in. "Okay."
My last lesson ends at one, and my stomach is grumbling by the time I clock out and hang up my vest in the back room. I consider going back to Kevin's for lunch, but quickly squash that idea. I'm pretty sure he mentioned something about tofurkey sandwiches when I left the house this morning, and I have zero desire to find out if that was just a conversation topic or if it's something I'd actually be expected to eat. So instead of heading back to the house and a questionable lunch option, I walk across the parking lot to the sandwich place where Hannah works. She's on the clock today, which means I can probably get a smoothie for free.
There's still a decent-sized line when I walk in, but I spot Hannah right away, working behind the register closest to the door. I give a little wave and she grins when she notices me.
"How were the puppies?" she asks when I come up to her register a few minutes later, already ringing up my regular order. "Any cute ones?"
"Ringo," I tell her, handing over my debit card. "And Kitty." These two are Hannah's most recent favorites.
"Kitty. I can't even," she says, shaking her head and handing me back my card. She thinks it's hilarious that I train a dog named Kitty, even though I keep telling her this one was named after the dog on the Titanic. "Get a booth if you can. I'm due for my break once this rush dies down."
"You got it." I grab a water cup off the counter and step aside so that she can wave the next customer forward.
A little while later Hannah comes out to join me, food and smoothies for both of us in hand. "Thanks," I say, taking mine from her and immediately digging in to my sandwich.
"Of course," she says, sliding in across from me. The restaurant is a lot quieter now, and the line that was snaking to the door when I got here is now completely gone. "Ugh, my feet are killing me."
She nods, reaching for her spoon and taking a bite of soup. "Totally wild. The post-church crowd always is though."
"Amen," I say, and we both laugh.
Then Hannah's grin fades and she levels me with an expectant look. "So. How'd it go yesterday?"
And there it is. I'm surprised it took her this long to bring it up.
"Fine." I reach for my sandwich again. "My room's pretty big, and it's on the opposite side of the house from Cammie's, so that's a bonus."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rules We're Meant to Break"
Copyright © 2019 Natalie Williamson.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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