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The eyes had no soul.

Megan Farrell flung down her brush with a curse. The eyes refused to shine for her. No matter how she sketched them, no matter what colors she used to fill them, they sat on her canvas, dull. Dead. She couldn’t even get the color right and probably never would, not unless she asked Chase Gallagher to sit for her, and she could never do that.

Chase Gallagher wasn’t part of her plan.

She stretched, cracking her neck, and stared out her window into the backyard that butted against hers. He was out there now, running around with his little brothers, trying to fix the snowman they’d built during a late-season snowstorm that hit Long Island three days earlier. Temperatures had risen to the fifties since then, but Chase would never tell the boys Frosty couldn’t be saved. The Gallagher brothers scooped up every inch of snow that hadn’t melted and brought it to Chase, who had an unlimited supply of patience from what Meg could see. Even through the closed window, she could hear the boys’ belly laughs and screeches of pure glee. “My turn, Chase! My turn!” And Chase would pick up another brother and lift him high enough to pat handfuls of snow into place. Suddenly, he lifted his head and stared right at her.

She jumped back, her face on fire. Not smart, letting him catch her with her face pressed to her window.

She turned back to her canvas, and with a charcoal pencil, she crossed out the color mix she’d noted. It was too dark out to fix it now. The master bedroom was already striped in shadows. After her father died, her mother had refused to sleep here, so Meg moved in, loving that she didn’t need to “clean up that mess!” when she was done painting. The room was large enough for art supplies and her stuff, not that she had much. Just a twin bed shoved against one wall, a garage sale bookcase and desk for homework, an ancient laptop whose E button had long since disappeared, and a meager wardrobe that hardly filled one rod in the walk-in closet otherwise devoted to art supplies.

The way the light shining through the huge palladium window illuminated the paintings on her easel and the paint splatters on the wood floor made her feel like a real artist in a studio.


Today, it only emphasized her failures.

On stiff legs, she took her brushes and palette knife to the bathroom that adjoined the bedroom to wash them. A drop of crimson paint hit the tile floor and spread, seeping into the grout.

Her throat tightened. Her breaths got shallow. Her stomach pitched and rolled, and when her legs buckled, she slid to the floor in a boneless heap, whimpering the way she had all those years ago when it had been blood on the floor instead of paint. He’d been gone for ten years now, but she could still hear his voice.

“The future, Megan!” he’d always said. “Focus on the future. Set goals and don’t let anything…or anyone ever make you lose focus.” Her father’s plan. But he’d failed. So now it was hers—a promise she had to keep.

Minutes passed, or maybe they were hours. She sat on the hard floor until she was able to pull herself together. How long it had taken this time, she wasn’t sure. She grabbed a towel and rubbed furiously at the spot on the floor until it squeaked. Then she pulled out the tie that held her hair back in a messy knot, wincing when a few rooted strands came away with it. She dragged herself to her feet and ran the shower.

Piece by piece, she shed her paint-spattered clothes. She stood under the stream of water as hot as she could take it. She really wished hot water could melt away all the anxiety that seemed to cover her like a thick coat of ice. The panic attack, the SAT scores that still hadn’t arrived, the job she was about to lose when the movie theater closed its doors in a few weeks, and the bills—the endless pile of bills her mom cried over when she thought Meg was asleep. When the water went cold, she stepped out, wrapped herself in a towel, and stood in front of the mirror, scowling at the look in her eyes.

Bailey would notice.

She always did, and Megan didn’t want to talk about it. It was old news.



In the girls’ locker room, Bailey blotted and dabbed and rubbed and wiped at the red streaks all over her True Religion jeans, which had cost all of her birthday money. Meg would totally have a cow if she knew the price, and Bailey wasn’t about to press play on that song. Meg never spent her money unless it was for art supplies. She was all about saving for college and the future…and her freakin’ retirement. Meg was always planning, planning, planning, and she wasn’t happy unless she had plans for her plans. Hell, even breaking up with Simon was a Meg Plan!

Her heart hurt when she thought of it. Simon looked so sad under all that tough guy acting. Maybe Meg was wrong. Maybe Simon had a really good reason for flirting with what’s-her-face. He was so pretty, with his blond hair, blue eyes, and movie-star life. She’d believed him when he had told her she was hot. She’d believed him when he had told her she was the only girl in his life. He’d been the one who had gotten her hooked on video games back in ninth grade —first Halo and then Call of Duty and after that, Portal. When Bailey showed not just interest but actual skill, Simon finally asked her out this semester, and she fell with a splat.

He was so cool on their first date. He did all those gentlemanly things like hold doors open and pull out chairs, and he never tried any moves. He took her to a nice restaurant, asked her a bunch of questions, and really listened to her answers. He walked her to do her door, asked if he could see her again, and promised to call. She walked inside, hurried up the stairs to her room, and flipped on the light, and her phone buzzed. He told her he’d had a great time and couldn’t wait to ask her to breakfast the next morning. Swooning, Bailey agreed. The next morning, he picked her up, drove to Bailey’s favorite game store, and handed her a bagel while they waited for the doors to open. Meg thought that was lame, but Bailey deemed it the perfect date. That was when he kissed her for the first time. Oh, that kiss! She brushed her lips, not surprised they still tingled. It was amazing and romantic and perfect, and every date was just like that one. They’d been great together. Or so she’d thought.

And then somewhere along the line, he’d stopped respecting her. Little things at first. So little that Bailey hadn’t even noticed them. Things like snapping at her, teasing her, rolling his eyes at the things she’d said. But Meg had noticed. And Meg didn’t take any crap from anybody. It was one of the things Bailey loved most about her best friend—and also the least.

She frowned at herself for the traitorous thought. She’d first seen Meg’s courage that day back in second grade on Bring Your Dad to School Day. There were a bunch of kids in their class who didn’t have dads. Bailey didn’t, so she asked Gramps, but he had to work, and there was no way her mom’s skeevy boyfriend would show up, even if she wanted him to, so Gran came instead. Rather than being grateful, Bailey nearly threw a tantrum because she was the only kid there without a male guest. Abby had brought her uncle. Karla had brought her big brother. Marc had his mom’s boyfriend with him, and Shane, a pudgy kid with a buzz cut, had brought his grandpa, who was also chubby and had a buzz cut. Everyone without a dad had brought someone—except Megan. And she stood up there in the front of that classroom and told everyone her dad was there, even though they couldn’t see him.

He was watching from heaven.

Bailey thought that was the bravest thing she’d ever seen and told Megan that at recess, when she’d shared her cookies because Meg didn’t have a snack. Over the years, she’d come to rely on Meg’s courage to say what needed to be said, even when she didn’t want to hear it. But Simon wasn’t that pair of yoga pants Meg warned her not to buy. He was the love of her life, and now…he wasn’t.

Oh, she shouldn’t have listened to Meg! She should have talked to Simon and worked things out, but it was too late. He’d never speak to her again. She’d been so sure Simon was “The One.” Guys never stuck by her for very long. Meg said it was because Bailey was too nice and that guys appreciated a little strong will once in a while.

Bailey moaned in frustration. It wasn’t fair! She just wanted to fall in love. Was that really asking so much? To find someone who loved and adored her in an Edward-loves-Bella way, perhaps only in a way that doesn’t suggest you’re stalker, someone who she could fall head over high heels into love with—love song love, movie love. Real, happily-ever-after, to-die-for love.

She thought of Chase and moaned again. Meg had it! She had the kind of love Bailey dreamed about and wished for just a few houses away, only Meg just kept swatting at it like it was some hairy spider. If Chase ever looked at her the way he looked at Meg, she’d never, ever tell him no. He was no Simon, but Chase was strong and quiet and loyal and seriously cute, the way his brown hair dipped over his eyes. Those eyes.

Meg had a little shrine in her room dedicated to Chase’s eyes. Sure, she never talked about it. But Bailey knew exactly what the various shades of green smeared all over Meg’s easel meant. She had it bad for Chase but would rather paint those gorgeous green eyes instead of stare into the real thing. Meg was all about “The Future,” and unless Chase Gallagher came with a Satisfaction Guaranteed! promise, there was no room for him in those plans.

The future, she snorted. The future was years and years away! Who cared about that stuff when they were seventeen? She pressed her lips together and sighed at her jeans. They were hopelessly stained. Gran would know some laundry trick that would work. Maybe she should call Gran and pretend she was way more upset than she really was just to get out of spending the rest of the afternoon in these jeans. That was as far into the future as Bailey ever dared to look. She much preferred the present.

Bailey’s lips twitched. If Chase were part of her present, what would Meg think? If Chase liked her, would Meg mind? Would she even notice? Meg would never admit it, never talk about it, but she had a competitive streak in her as wide as Simon’s shoulders. Yeah, yeah, it was devious. A little competition might be just what Meg needed to make her appreciate the things she took for granted, things that were right under the nose that was always buried in a textbook or smeared with paint.

Besides—and now Bailey smiled—if Meg was all wrapped up in her own love life, maybe she’d finally butt the hell out of hers.