It’s my final day at Kensington School, and my exchange is coming to an end. My flight for New York leaves tomorrow, and I’m not ready to say goodbye to the boys I love.
But then three key things happened at school. Noah told me to forget about him, Harry broke up with me, and I finally kissed Noah Williams.
When I kissed him in the lunchroom in front of everyone, it was out of anger. I wanted to prove to Harry that I didn’t have feelings for Noah.
But I was wrong.
The kiss was incredible. But it was also a mistake. Harry watched it happen, Mohammad sat in shock, and Noah told me that he would never forgive me. I made a huge, public mess of things. But thankfully, it’s time for me to leave. I’m going to take Noah’s advice and cut all ties.
No more heartbreak.
I’m going to leave the three boys I love in London, hoping that they’ll be able to pick up the pieces of their friendship. And maybe in the process, they’ll find the pieces of my broken heart.
Because I know I’ll be going to New York without it.
Release date: February 23, 2021
Publisher: Swoonworthy Books
Print pages: 343
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
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Friday, October 11th
Just a kiss.
“I love her?” I repeat, my throat burning.
Olivia nods firmly at my statement. I step away from her, my hands shaking at my sides.
I love her.
Every part of me is pounding. Shaking. I’m practically vibrating.
I love her.
I shake my head. Because it’s not true. It can’t be true.
“Noah … Noah doesn’t love me,” I stutter.
“It’s what he said,” Olivia replies softly, her brows drawing in.
And I know that look. It’s pity.
“Well, that’s rich. That’s something, isn’t it?” I say partly to Olivia, partly to myself.
I laugh in disbelief.
Because this whole thing is becoming hilarious really. I mean, here I am, starting to pace, just like Harry did when he dumped me. And I can’t help myself. I let out another sharp laugh, feeling mocked by the parallels.
“Suddenly, Noah loves me? No, he doesn’t. He really doesn’t. If he loved me, he wouldn’t have just done that to me. He lied to Harry to get what he wanted.”
“Why would he lie?” Olivia asks.
I pace back and forth, wanting to just walk away.
I need to get my bag.
I need to leave.
I need a strategy. A plan. How quickly can I get out of here? Is the closest exit really through the main entrance? Maybe I can leave through the exit by the locker rooms. Yes. Then no one will be able to stop me. Gene and Helen are both at work, so I can make my escape. I can pack up my bags, throw them down the fucking staircase, and be on my merry way. I nod my head, knowing it’s what I have to do.
I glance toward Olivia. She’s still standing beside me, her eyes drawn up to mine like she’s waiting. I think she asked me a question. Maybe she’s waiting for an answer.
I’m not even sure I remember her question.
My heart and mind are racing.
I think back to what Olivia said again.
Why would he lie?
Why would Noah lie?
I stop pacing and turn to Olivia. Because she needs to know the truth. At least if she knows the truth, if one other person knows, it won’t be a secret anymore. It won’t be some intimacy shared between only Noah and me. Maybe it will help her piece together the mess that I’m in. And if she understands, maybe she can make Harry understand.
I know that my actions today probably broke his heart.
And I will never forgive myself for that.
I bring my mind back to Olivia. Back to our conversation. Back to Noah.
“Fine, maybe Noah does love me. But Noah’s probably in love with some sick and twisted version of me he’s created in his head. In that fucked up head of his. Okay? Maybe he thought he meant it. But … but … it’s not the truth.”
“Mallory”—Olivia reaches out to me, but I don’t let her touch me—“you’re wrong.”
Her brows pull in as she presses her lips together. I stare at her, hoping that her expression will change.
She has to understand.
She has to change her mind.
Because if she doesn’t, that means I just ruined everything.
That means that maybe Noah does love me.
My whole body feels drained.
It’s like all the blood moving through me somehow goes cold. All the energy that Noah talks about needing to dissipate is gone. All my sass and rage, in one moment, disappears. And I feel like a ghost. Like a shell. I think if Olivia tried to grab my arm again to comfort me, her hand might go right through me. Because there is so little of me here right now that it would be like trying to grasp thin air.
And what I want right now, more than anything, is to disappear.
To become invisible and sneak out of this school.
To leave and never look back.
“Miss James.” A voice echoes out, filling the hallway.
I turn to the voice, not recognizing the face of the professor standing in front of me.
“The headmaster would like to have a word.”
I look at him, unmoving for a moment. Because my plan to escape without notice was just taken away from me.
I give a small nod to the professor.
He stays standing with his feet firmly planted, waiting for me. And I know that I’m supposed to follow him to the office. I shake my head once, trying to clear it, and then start moving.
The man motions for me to walk in front of him.
Maybe he thinks I’ll bolt.
Or maybe he doesn’t want to give me the comfort of following him. He wants me to know that step after step, there’s no getting out of this. I’m stuck between him and Headmaster Compton. I glance back to Olivia.
She’s standing in the direction I should be heading.
Toward my locker.
Toward the exit.
There’s so much I want to say to her.
I want to apologize. To tell her that I didn’t want to leave like this. That I messed up.
Her skin is tinted pink, and I can see the tearstains still on her cheeks. She wipes at her skin, trying to erase the marks as she watches me. There’s something different about the way she’s looking at me. Pity, confusion, and worry all mix together across her features, and it’s enough to make my stomach drop even further down than it already is.
I end up just shaking my head at her. Nothing I say will make things right. Mouthing, I’m sorry, won’t change anything.
The only thing I can do is leave.
Because Olivia is usually the collected one.
Even when we got in our fight the first week I was here, she was filled with pure rage. There wasn’t anything broken in her. There wasn’t any raw, hurt emotion coming through. It was a game. She wanted Harry, and I had him. Plain and simple. But now, there are so many emotions flashing across her face that I have to look away. I fix my eyes on the end of the hallway. On the door leading into the offices.
The professor behind me clears his throat when we get to the door. There’s a small window along the same wall, and I hesitate when I look through it.
Because I can see Noah.
I stare at him through the glass, my stomach dropping. His shoulders are slumped as he sits in the office.
“Please,” the professor says, extending his hand out to the door. He holds it open for me.
When I walk into the office, Ms. Adams eyes me.
“Please, take a seat,” she says, rising from her desk. “I will let the headmaster know you’re both here.”
I swallow hard, my gaze shifting from the secretary to the seats against the wall. To the seat that Noah is sitting in.
When his eyes come up to meet mine, it’s like I’ve slipped under the water in a bathtub. That feeling of total silence. Total peace. Noah’s eyes do that to me. And if everything hadn’t just happened, I might be able to forget what all just happened. But one look at his lips won’t let me forget.
Because, this morning, I decided to wear red lipstick.
To go out with a bang.
I shake my head at myself, noticing how Noah’s lips are a little too red. And it’s because of me.
I tainted them.
I tainted him.
With my lips. With my anger.
I feel like I could puke, seeing his normally pink lips a tinge too red. Noah bites into his lip at the same time that his eyes narrow in on me. He’s glaring at me.
I glare back at him, feeling my pulse speed up.
“You said you loved me,” I whisper harshly, sitting down next to him.
“What?” Noah says with surprise. He looks over at me, his mouth falling ajar.
He looks shocked.
“I never thought that you would stoop so low. You love me?” My voice catches. “You knew it was the only thing that you could say to Harry to get him to dump me.”
“You’re serious?” Noah replies, his eyes flaring.
“It was your checkmate, Noah.” I can feel my eyes turning to coal with my words.
But I had to say it. There was no point in me not saying it. I already feel hollowed out, and I’d rather him admit it now than drag this out. That what he did, said to Harry, was wrong. That he lied. That he did it so Harry would bail on me. Just like he was.
“Of course you’d think I was playing some game,” Noah replies.
His brown eyes are glowing now. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were in the headmaster’s office, I’d probably run from them.
Instead, I push my shoulders back and stare forward.
“Headmaster Compton will see you both now,” Ms. Adams says, joining us.
Noah’s the first to stand up. His face sets, and his jaw tightens. I watch as he fixes his tie firmly at his neck.
I glance down at myself.
Even though I’m sitting board straight in my chair, I don’t feel anything near put together. Really, I don’t feel anything. And apparently, neither does Noah. When I catch his eye, it’s like all the emotion in his body is gone. He watches me get up from the chair without blinking.
Looking at him now, you’d never know that fifteen minutes ago, he was about to cry.
So, I plaster a smile on my face and nod at Ms. Adams. “Great.”
We follow her into Headmaster Compton’s office, single file. I stand behind Noah, his frame shielding me for only a moment before Ms. Adams leaves us, closing the door behind her.
Noah can pretend if he wants, but I won’t.
What’s the point?
I step out from behind Noah and look to Mr. Compton before dropping down into one of the seats in front of his desk.
“I have to say, I’m very disappointed to see you in my office again,” Mr. Compton says directly to me.
“I’m not thrilled about it either,” I admit, glancing between the headmaster and Noah.
Noah won’t look at me. He keeps his eyes on Mr. Compton.
“And unfortunately, because of the severity of the situation, a parent needed to be informed.”
I snap my head back toward Mr. Compton, my mouth falling open.
“But my parents don’t even live here,” I reply.
Because it’s one thing to get in trouble outside of school. My dad might understand if, in the name of experience, I broke curfew or didn’t ace an exam. But getting a call from the headmaster?
That’s a whole different story.
“Your host family,” Headmaster Compton corrects, his eyes slipping from me to Noah. “Which means, I only made one call.”
My face goes white as I look at Noah.
Noah looks back at me, equally as shocked. His cheeks flush before he pulls his gaze away from mine.
Because we both know who Headmaster Compton called.
I cover my mouth with my hand and try to steady my breathing.
“I expected as much of a reaction. Mrs. Williams herself was rather frantic when Ms. Adams phoned her. She will be joining us shortly.”
Neither Noah nor I say anything, and Mr. Compton takes the time to analyze us. He leans back in his chair, his eyes becoming slits. I’m struck, not sure whether to stare back or try and find somewhere to hide before Helen arrives.
Because Mr. Compton has nothing on Helen Williams.
The thought of her joining us has my stomach doing flips.
“Your outburst in the lunchroom was disgraceful,” Mr. Compton starts, honing in on me.
I swallow, trying to bring myself back to reality. And the reality is, Headmaster Compton is only my principal for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, I’ll be on a flight out of here. I will never have to see him—or Noah—again.
What’s the worst he can do?
Send me home?
I’m already going home. And happily.
“It wasn’t the best decision,” I reply, knowing that I need to say something.
“At least we can agree on that.” Mr. Compton’s eyes flit between Noah and me before he folds his hands together, resting them on his desk. “Now, before we get to the bottom of this, answer me one question. How long has this been going on?”
I look to Noah, not sure what he means.
“How long has what been going on?” I ask.
“This,” Headmaster Compton says, handing Noah a tissue.
Noah looks down at it, confused. But he must finally realize what Mr. Compton is getting at because he takes the tissue. I stare at it, hoping Noah won’t use it. That he won’t wipe away our kiss. That maybe, deep down, he doesn’t actually hate me for what I did. But before I can put more thought into it, Noah brings the tissue to his mouth, sliding it across his perfect lips.
And then any trace of me is gone.
I should feel relieved. But I just grow more upset.
“There’s nothing going on between us,” Noah replies, staring at the reddened tissue.
“It’s time to tell the truth,” Mr. Compton threatens.
“It was just a kiss in the lunchroom. It was nothing,” I cut in.
“Actually, I would call that outburst means for expulsion,” Mr. Compton replies.
“Expulsion!” Helen repeats from the doorway, joining us.
I freeze at her voice. Noah drops the tissue into his lap. Mr. Compton looks up at her.
When I finally turn around in my chair to face her, Helen looks like her soul has left her body.
It takes her a good five seconds to come back to us, and when she finally does, it’s with a vengeance.
“Noah Williams,” she starts, heading toward him. “How dare you allow this to happen. You are supposed to be a clever, proper young man, and-and-and …” she stutters, her eyes shifting to me. “Mallory! After all our talks about controlling your emotions and not reacting, you decide to jeopardize your future by doing this?”
“I didn’t kiss her,” Noah tries to explain to his mom.
“You were both kissing,” Headmaster Compton interrupts, referring to a sheet of paper in front of him. “And Miss James was also yelling.”
“She forced me to,” Noah says, exasperated, his brows drawing in.
“She sexually assaulted you?” Headmaster Compton asks, sitting up straighter in his chair.
“Well, no …” Noah stutters, looking between me and his mom.
“So, it was or it was not mutual?” Headmaster Compton asks Noah.
I look up to Helen, who’s staring at Noah. She looks like she’s about to have a stroke. Noah looks from me, to his mom, back to Mr. Compton before slumping down in his seat.
Noah lets out a sigh, his eyes flaring. “I suppose it was mutual.”
“Then, detention for you, Mr. Williams,” Mr. Compton replies firmly. “Now, getting back to the matter at hand. How long has this been going on?”
“It hasn’t,” I repeat, shaking my head.
Mr. Compton looks from me to Noah. I think he’s decided to try and chip away at Noah instead of me, his eyes becoming slits again.
“Lying will not help this situation, Noah. You’ve got good marks, and you are a good footballer. It would be a shame for anything to taint your record.”
Taint his record.
For something—or someone—to taint him.
“Headmaster Compton, I can assure you—” Helen starts, but Noah interrupts her.
“Mallory’s telling the truth,” Noah finally answers.
And Mr. Compton doesn’t look happy about it.
“These are things that must be thought about. The students are already talking, and parents will call soon enough. There has been quite the buzz about the fact that Noah and Mallory live under the same roof.”
And for the first time, I realize why Mr. Compton is taking this so seriously.
Why I should be taking this seriously.
“For another day,” I state, grasping at anything. “Then, I’m leaving. Just … give Noah detention. Please, don’t ruin his future because I was … because of me. Please.”
“What are you suggesting?” Mr. Compton asks with interest.
“This is my last day. Just let me go. Let my school in New York deal with me on Monday. Relay the message,” I reply.
Headmaster Compton crosses his arms over his chest, a smirk pulling at his lips.
“So, you’re taking accountability?” he asks.
I can feel Noah’s eyes on me, but I keep my gaze on Mr. Compton.
“For the kiss, yes. But nothing like this has happened between us before today,” I clarify.
“And how are we to be sure?” Mr. Compton pushes.
I shake my head, trying to come up with something. “Ask anyone. Noah and I are friends, but I’ve been in a relationship with Harry.”
“Then, why were you kissing Mr. Williams in the lunchroom?” Mr. Compton asks, not following.
“A great question …” Noah says under his breath.
I close my eyes, trying to keep myself from reacting.
“I … was upset,” I say, opening my eyes back up. My cheeks flush with my answer. I didn’t expect to get drilled about why I’d kissed Noah. I thought I would get in trouble and then have to leave. Not recount my terrible thought process of how I’d put us in this position.
“Mallory can be a little … impulsive,” Helen says with an uneasy laugh, apparently sensing my distress.
Mr. Compton looks between Noah and me with suspicion. “This story just isn’t adding up.”
I suck in a desperate gulp of air, knowing that Headmaster Compton won’t be satisfied until I explain my actions. Until I can convince him that this hasn’t happened before.
“I kissed Noah because … Harry broke up with me today after something Noah said. And I wanted to hurt them both. I reacted.”
Helen sucks in a gasp over my shoulder. Mr. Compton raises his eyebrows.
When I glance to Noah, he’s just staring down. His eyes are on the tissue sitting in his lap.
“I know that I messed up,” I go on. And it’s more for Noah than it is for Mr. Compton. But he still won’t look at me.
“Do you?” Mr. Compton asks.
I pull my eyes away from Noah.
“Of course I do,” I almost whisper, wishing Helen didn’t have to witness this. And despite Noah not even looking at me, I know he’s absorbing every word. “Helen’s right. I have a slight problem with controlling my emotions, and sometimes, I do things without thinking. I didn’t intend to get anyone expelled.”
“Expelled,” Helen repeats.
She ushers Noah up and out of his chair, taking a seat herself. She looks like she might faint. Noah stands awkwardly, like he wants to crouch down and hide under the table but Helen would never let that happen. She looks between the two of us, fire back in her eyes. I push further into my seat, really wishing I could become invisible.
“All right, all right,” Headmaster Compton says. He must realize that we’re about to be skewered again by Helen, and instead, he wants to be the one to do it.
Or maybe he’s scared of Helen too.
“You’re both done for the day. I want you out of my office. Out of my school.”
“Gladly,” Helen replies with relief, springing up.
“What about our tests?” I ask. I don’t even know where the question came from. After everything that’s happened, after wanting to just leave, it shouldn’t have even crossed my mind.
“You should have thought about that before your outburst,” Mr. Compton replies with a crooked smile.
I gape at him. He’s enjoying this way too much.
“Right. Well, I hope we all can agree that a failed exam and detention are suitable punishments for your actions,” Helen says.
I keep my mouth shut and stand up.
“Come by my office on Monday. We will talk about detention then,” Headmaster Compton says, sounding pleased with himself. “And, Miss James, as always, it’s been a true pleasure,” he says dryly.
Before I have a chance to reply, Helen ushers us out of the office. Noah is a few steps ahead of us, but he turns to face me and his mom when we get into the hallway.
“You two,” Helen says, rubbing at her temples.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her.
“As you should be,” she fires back. Which I deserve. But Helen lets out a small huff, her eyes softening. “Why don’t you both go collect your things while I pull the car round?”
Noah and I nod at her as the bell goes off.
“Right. Make it quick,” Helen says before dashing off.
The moment that she’s out of the building, I turn on my heels and head for my locker. I don’t wait for Noah. Any second, the halls are going to flood with students, and all eyes are going to be back on me.
I can hear Noah behind me, but I don’t turn around. When I get to my locker, I clear everything out. I shove all my notebooks into my bag before reaching for my large pile of textbooks.
“Ready?” Noah asks, sounding impatient. He’s got his backpack hanging off of one shoulder and is wearing an impenetrable expression.
“Almost,” I say curtly, pulling my textbooks out of my locker, trying to stack them in my arms.
Noah lets out a huff, grabs the stack of textbooks out of my hands, and takes off down the hallway.
I slam my locker shut, trying to catch up to him.
“I can carry my own books,” I say at his side.
“Slowly, apparently,” he replies, picking up his pace.
The students in the hallway part around us, and all of their conversations stop. Noah doesn’t glance around. I’m not sure he even notices that the only sound in the hallway now are his loud, echoing footsteps.
Everyone is watching us. I search as we walk, not sure if I’d be relieved or mortified to find a set of eyes I knew well.
But I don’t.
Noah is past the offices and almost to the entrance when I finally speak again.
“I need to drop off my textbooks,” I state, stopping him. I motion for him to give me back my books.
“We can do it later,” Noah replies, keeping his grip on them.
“No, we can’t. I need to do it now.” I stare at Noah, seeing anger flash across his face.
“I’ll return them on Monday,” Noah says. And then he is out the door.
“Give them back to me,” I say, catching up to him in the courtyard.
Noah’s eyes are glued to the street, and I can tell he’s searching for Helen’s car.
“No,” he replies.
When we get onto the sidewalk, I can see Helen’s car turning onto the street. She’s stuck at a light, trying to turn left when Noah faces me. He shoves his hand into his pocket, digging for something.
“The only thing you can have back is this.” Noah pulls the tissue out from his pocket.
The tissue with my lipstick on it.
I look from the tissue up to Noah, feeling my chest crack open. Noah looks hurt. Frustrated. His brown eyes have darkened, and his chest is rising and falling quickly. He extends the tissue out to me. When Helen’s car rolls to a stop at the curb, I take it into my hand. And Noah lets it go.
He walks around the car, gets into the backseat, and slams the door shut.
I open the passenger door and fall down into the seat next to Helen’s. When my door closes, Helen takes off.
He has such a presence.
We drive in silence. When we get to the house, I slip off my backpack, coat, and shoes. But even as they drop to the floor, I don’t feel any lighter.
Helen sets down her purse and keys on the table as Noah takes off his shoes.
“I should go pack.”
Helen nods at me remorsefully, but then her attention diverts to Noah. I glance at him, feeling a mixture of guilt and hate. He sits down at the kitchen table in an angry huff and brings his hands up onto either side of his head. A second after though, he’s dropping his hands and sitting back in his chair, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. Helen sits down at the table with him as I leave the kitchen. But when I turn back, I see that she’s pulling him into a hug. I take the stairs two at a time, grateful when I close the door to my room. To finally be hidden away.
I wish I could come up with something to say.
Something to fix … well, everything.
But at this point, there’s nothing left to say. And I think the only thing I can do is leave.
I need to pack up my things and go.
I shut my eyes, take in a deep breath, and tell myself to hold it together.
I get halfway through emptying the dresser before I feel my breath catch. I’m working my way through my pajama drawer when my fingers land on a familiar piece of gray fabric.
I pull out Noah’s sweats.
Maybe I should call them my sweats, so that way they will lose their appeal. Their importance. I’m not even sure why I’ve kept them. Why they’re in my drawer.
His sweats aren’t mine.
And neither is he.
He never will be.
I crumple up the sweats and throw them into the trash bin, my hands shaking. I continue emptying out the drawers until there is nothing left in them. I’ve made a huge, messy pile of all the contents on my bed. But I don’t care. I don’t care that they’ll be a wrinkly mess when I get home. Or that I’ll probably never open any of these suitcases again.
Maybe the airline will lose them.
I move to the wardrobe and pull out all of my hanging clothes. I separate my shirts from my dresses from my uniforms. I take each item off its hanger, deciding I probably should fold it.
I shouldn’t just throw it into my suitcase.
I should care.
But unlike my clothing, nothing else seems organized. Or makes any sense. I can’t figure out Noah’s motives. Or even my own. Today, the only person who was pure in their actions was probably Harry. And the fact that I lashed out at him with Noah, through Noah … it says a lot about my character. It says a lot.
Because my actions weren’t just bad.
They were mean.
And the look on Harry’s face after I kissed Noah … it makes me feel sick.
I drop the dress that I’m holding onto my bed and slide down onto the ground. I cover my eyes with my palms and try to imagine that none of that just happened. That this is all a dream, and in a few minutes, I will wake up to start the day over. Noah will get into bed with me, and we’ll talk about school or running. But life isn’t that simple. And even then, I’m not sure that would make anything better.
A tear finally escapes, rolling down my cheek. And I allow it. Because there’s no one else here. No one is going to comfort me. And they shouldn’t. I wrap my arms around my knees, hugging them to my chest.
I was so furious and angry.
I was mad at Noah. At Harry.
I was blinded by anger.
Yet somehow, even blind, I found my way to Noah. To his lips. I still figured out a way to ruin everything.
I wanted to hurt them.
To break Harry’s heart the way he was willing to break mine.
Everything comes flooding back to me. Harry giving me the key. Noah saying he wanted my T-shirt.
I should have expected this. It was always—and will always be—just them. Noah will always choose Harry, and Harry will always choose Noah. I couldn’t ask anything different of them. I just never thought that they would both give me up for the other. And I never thought that Noah would tell Harry that he loved me.
Did he say it because he wanted Harry to end things?
Did he say it because he thought Harry truly deserved to know?
Or did he say it because he actually felt that way?
I hold myself tighter, realizing that I’m never going to find out. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter now. There’s no coming back from this. I can’t, in twenty-four hours, apologize to Harry. He wouldn’t accept it. I know I wouldn’t if I were him. And I don’t even know what I would say to Noah.
I’m so, so angry with you.
I’m disappointed in you.
I’m disappointed in us.
And Mohammad. Remembering the look on his face sends a shiver through me. If anyone could have seen in that moment that I’d snapped, it would be him. He would be the most understanding. But at the same time, he would be the hardest on me.
Because he loves me.
Because he loves them.
And I might have just destroyed everything for all of them.
I push myself up off the ground and wipe at my wet eyes and nose, knowing that I have to stop. I can’t think about this all day. I can’t sit here and cry. I need to have a goal. I need to keep my mind occupied.
I need to finish packing.
A knock echoes from my door half an hour later. My whole stomach flips at the thought of who could be on the other side of the door. And for a moment, I let myself imagine that it’s Noah.
But I know it’s not.
“Come in,” I call out.
Helen pops her head into my room. She’s probably checking to make sure it’s safe to enter after my blowup. She doesn’t want to be collateral damage. And I don’t blame her. Her gaze moves across my now-disastrous room. The floors and bed are covered in clothes, and I have two suitcases open. I add a freshly folded shirt into one of the suitcases and look up at her from the ground.
“I know that I was quite … exasperated in the headmaster’s office,” Helen starts, venturing farther into my room.
“And you had every right to be.”
She shouldn’t doubt her anger. Just because she has a soft spot for me doesn’t give me the right to abuse it. Helen moves a pile of clothes, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Mallory, what happened today? What led to all of this?”
I swallow, nervously running my hand up my arm. “That’s a big question.”
“With a big answer?” Helen asks. A stark line settles in between her brows.
I get up and move to sit down on the bed next to her. I’m not even sure how to boil down everything that happened today. Helen takes my hand into hers.
“I think that somehow, I love them both.”
Helen stills at my words. I let out a shallow breath, my throat feeling smaller than before.
“This past week, I … found it easy to get lost in the time I spent with Noah. He has such a presence, and I sort of decided that my feelings for him were real. That they weren’t going anywhere. Things with Harry, as you know, had been bumpy. Maybe that pushed me toward Noah. But when I started feeling conflicted, I told Noah. I told him that I liked him. And … he told me that he liked me too.”
“Oh dear,” Helen says, her forehead creasing.
“But even after saying those things, we didn’t act on them, Helen. I promise.”
Helen gives my hand a small squeeze but then stills. “Why didn’t you?”
I pull my lips to the side, wondering how to word my answer.
“Partially, it was because of the fact that I was leaving. And obviously, because of Harry. Noah didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to hurt him. And I sort of wondered, deep down, if maybe it was something that just needed to be expressed and then moved on from. Mohammad constantly told me that if I just popped the bubble, maybe it would be done and over with, you know?”
“Mohammad wasn’t wrong.” Helen tilts her head to the side, and I can see her saying, But he wasn’t right.
“I didn’t want to play with anyone’s feelings. It wasn’t a case of wanting them both. I just … I started out with Harry. And as time went on, I fell for him. I care for him. But maybe I fell for Noah more. I don’t know.”
Helen gives me a solemn nod. “Noah needs time with these things. He isn’t one to be pushed.”
“I know,” I agree.
“Noah stated quite matter-of-factly what happened at lunch. But I know that it isn’t the full story, is it?” she asks me.
I shake my head at her. “No.”
Maybe I want to convince her that I didn’t intend to hurt anyone. That I didn’t mean to hurt the boys who have her heart. But that isn’t true. I did intend to hurt them.
Both of them.
“Tell me,” Helen urges.
I nod at her, thinking back over everything that happened.
“Harry told me he loved me this week,” I start. “And this morning, he gave me a key to his country house. He said that he wanted us to go there together. He said that New York wouldn’t change things for us. So, I agreed. I agreed to take that step with him. To stay together. To give it a shot. We hadn’t defined what we were, but I knew. And I felt good about it.
“I had told Noah about my feelings. I had given us a chance to be more. And he couldn’t. He wouldn’t do that to Harry. He said he didn’t want to hurt me. And I was okay with that. Because I knew that I had at least told Noah. There wasn’t anything left unsaid between us. So, I thought that Noah and I … maybe it was a phase.
“But then before lunch, Harry came to see me. He was frantic. He told me that Noah had told him something. That Noah liked me. In a big way. And that he had to break up with me because of it. I think that’s when I snapped.”
“Because Noah broke you two up,” Helen says, understanding.
I nod. “It’s one thing if he wanted me and he admitted his feelings because he had to. But he told me to forget about him when I left. He told me that we couldn’t be anything because of our circumstances.
“But I could have been with Harry after I left. He needs me. He’s going to need everyone. And I … I would have needed him too. But when Harry said that he had to end things now, it reminded me of what Noah had said. And the first thought that popped into my mind was that Noah had told Harry he felt that way, so Harry would break up with me.”
Helen remains silent, trying to absorb all the information I gave her.
“I’m sorry. I know that you wanted a short answer.”
“Mallory,” Helen says, letting out a slow sigh. “Has it crossed your mind that Noah told Harry he loved you because he truly does?”
I stare at Helen, seeing so much of Noah in her that I have to look away.
A flush spreads to my cheeks with her question.
“It has. But it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t figure out his motive for doing that. I mean, I leave tomorrow. It’s not like, even if that were true, we would be anything. Or even have a chance to be anything. Why wait? Why on my last day?”
Helen lets out another warm sigh when I realize something.
“He’s talked to you, hasn’t he?” I ask.
Helen glances away, her thick hair falling over her shoulder.
“Noah and I had a brief chat.” Her voice strains, trying to sound objective.
“I hurt him,” I say, feeling sick again.
“You’re both hurting.” Helen pats my hand. “That much is obvious.”
“I’m sorry about today. I’m sorry they called you. That I … momentarily forgot your advice to take a breath and not just react.” I look away, embarrassed.
“It’s become evident that things between you, Harry, and Noah have grown more complicated than any of you can handle. Despite the … theatrics, maybe it is best things came out. Now, things are out in the open, and you have a chance to make amends,” Helen replies.
And it’s a total mom answer.
No, it’s a Helen answer.
Only she would think that there was any chance of making things right.
“I think I’ve passed the point of forgiveness.”
“That isn’t up to you. It’s up to those you’ve hurt with your actions,” Helen responds.
“I would never ask for forgiveness. Some things are unforgivable. I hurt everyone I care about today.” I shake my head at her.
“You should say goodbye to your friends at least. Mohammad. Naomi. You’ve all gotten close,” Helen insists.
I flick my gaze up to her, wondering how she thinks I could manage that.
“I think it’s best if I stay here. It’s one more night, and then I will be gone.”
“Mallory …” Helen says, concern written all over her face.
“I’m not running away. I promise I’m not. I just know when to admit defeat. I’m waving the white flag. I’m forfeiting the game. All the chess pieces are broken.”
“That’s quite a few analogies,” Helen says with a small smile.
“It’s like in the Harry Potter movie when they were trying to get to the sorcerer’s stone. They had to play that game of chess. Everything is shattered. Destroyed. The game is over, but this time, no one is left standing. I can’t explain my way out of it. I can’t even explain my actions to you. There’s nothing I can do to fix this. And I think I would make it worse if I tried. It’s better for me to just go.”
I expect Helen to say something encouraging. To try and convince me otherwise. But she must hear the certainty in my voice because she doesn’t. She just pats my leg.
“Why don’t you pack up and see how you feel? I’ve phoned Gene. He’s leaving work early, and I’ve sent Noah out to meet him at the pub for a late lunch.”
“Really?” I can’t help the surprise in my voice.
“He needs to be out right now. With his father. I think you both could use the space,” Helen says, standing up from the bed.
I nod at her, agreeing.
“Thank you.” I give her the best smile I can manage. “For everything. For listening. For caring. I know that it can’t be easy. Seeing Noah hurt. Having me here. I know that I could have gotten us in real trouble because of my actions, yet you asked me how I was. You didn’t lecture me.”
“I can almost guarantee that Headmaster Compton will phone your school, so don’t go thinking you’re out of trouble just yet,” Helen warns. “Though with me, I’m more concerned about you and Noah. And I think the situation is punishment enough.”
When Helen gets to my door, she turns back to me, her fingers resting on the knob. “Once you’ve gotten that case filled, come downstairs and join me for lunch.”
I nod at her before she closes the door, leaving me alone again. I can barely stomach the idea of eating. My insides are so twisted up; I’m not sure any food would actually make its way through. If anything, it will just sit at the base of my throat, making me feel like I’m going to be sick.
But I know that Helen is worried about me. And I’m grateful that she cares. I fold up a few more stacks of shirts, shoving them into a suitcase before venturing downstairs to join her.
They can hate me.
I spend the rest of the afternoon hiding in my room. Packing. I’m not sure when Noah will get back, but I don’t want to chance running into him downstairs. I haven’t checked my phone since, well, before school. I know that I should. It isn’t out of the question that Mr. Compton called my parents. And if he did, I’m sure that they have called me by now. But I can’t bring myself to look at my phone. Mostly because I’m scared of who else has called or texted me. Or who hasn’t.
But I know that I need to look.
I have to check.
I grab my phone from my bag, biting my lip as I click it on.
There are rows and rows of texts. From Naomi. Mohammad. Even one from Olivia. There aren’t any missed calls though, and there aren’t any texts from my parents. Or Harry.
I open up the messages from Mohammad.
Mohammad: What. Happened?
Mohammad: Call me.
I force out an unsteady breath. He didn’t send either of these texts until after school was out, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I owe it to Mohammad to call him. The phone rings only once before he picks up.
“Mallory?” he asks, like he isn’t sure it’s actually me.
“I’m sorry,” I say shakily.
“Explain.” That’s all Mohammad says back.
“The whole thing is sort of a blur. I know that it was bad. That it seemed bad.”
“Bad?” he gasps. “Bad?”
“Okay, it was worse than bad.” I don’t know what else to say. This is why I told Helen that it was best if I stayed in. If I stayed quiet. Because there’s no explanation. Nothing I say will make this better. But I need to try. “I’ve never believed in … the gray area, but, Mohammad, this wasn’t a black-and-white situation.”
“I didn’t expect it to be,” he says quickly. “But what happened? You two kissed, and then you and Noah both left. A second after that, Harry was gone too.”
“I snapped at lunch. I was so, so mad at Noah. And I wanted to hurt him. To hurt Harry.”
“What were you thinking?” he asks, his voice quiet.
“Did Harry not tell you?” I ask, trying to figure out what Mohammad knows.
“I’m headed to his place now. I haven’t talked to him yet.”
“Noah told Harry that he … fancies me.”
“Fuck me,” Mohammad replies.
“So, you kissed Noah because …”
“I kissed Noah because I thought I could prove a point. That it wasn’t true. When Harry had spoken to me after Latin, he broke up with me.”
“He broke up with you?” he repeats, trying to piece things together.
“But why did you kiss Noah? Why like that?”
“I wanted to hurt him,” I say, frustrated. “Don’t you get it, Mohammad? I’m a terrible fucking person. I wanted to hurt them both.”
“Your actions might say that, but I know you aren’t. And I want to know the real reason,” he demands.
I push my hair off my face. Mohammad isn’t going to let up until I give him an answer. Until I give him the truth.
“Noah has been telling me that my best chance at moving on is to forget about the three of you. To cut my ties before I leave. He didn’t think I would be able to handle being away from you. When Noah told Harry how he felt, I thought he did it so Harry would break up with me before I left. But I didn’t want that. And I thought if I kissed Noah, I could prove to Harry that he’d made a mistake. That there was nothing between Noah and me.”
Mohammad inhales a sharp breath.
“And was there?” he asks.
“What did you see?”
“I saw you kiss him.”
“And … he kissed you back.”
“He kissed me back, and then he told me that he would never forgive me. So, it’s fitting. This is how it should be, Mohammad. I will leave, they can hate me, and their friendship will survive because of it.”
“It was the wrong decision.”
“It was the only option.”
“Miss America—” Mohammad drawls out, sounding defeated.
I cut him off, “You should hate me too. Promise me that you will?”
“I can’t promise you that. Where is this coming from?”
“I thought that I could prove Harry wrong. I wanted to show him that I wanted him. That I chose him. That there was nothing between Noah and me. But I managed to do the exact opposite. I hadn’t intended to hurt Harry. I wish I could just apologize. For all of it. But it’s too late. My words won’t mean anything after my actions. And they shouldn’t. Noah will never forgive me. Harry won’t either. He shouldn’t. And I’ll never forgive myself.”
“It was catastrophic to watch,” he says with a deflated voice.
“It was our destruction. I knew Noah and I would eventually come together. And that when we did, we would hurt everyone around us. So, maybe it was fate and its forceful hand.” Tears form in my eyes.
“Fate made you kiss Noah?”
“No, I forced that upon fate,” I say with a sad laugh.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah,” I say into the phone.
“Would it have been too much for you to break up with Harry? To have told Noah how you felt?” Mohammad asks.
I wipe at my eyes. “I could have ruined their friendship.”
“Haven’t you anyway?”
I shake my head to myself. “No. I secured it. Because now, they can both hate me. Neither of them will forgive me, which is why you shouldn’t either.”
“You’re not going to come say goodbye, are you?” Mohammad asks sadly.
“Why aren’t you mad?”
“It’s a lot to process. I will be at some point; don’t worry.”
“I won’t come to say goodbye,” I reply. “It’s best if I stay locked in my room until my flight tomorrow. I don’t want to cause more destruction.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sure I’m going to have to do damage control anyway. I called Noah. He didn’t answer.”
And I know he’s asking me if I know anything.
“He’s at the pub with his dad.”
“Well, that’s one way to get over a broken heart,” Mohammad says.
“I don’t think they’re drinking,” I clarify.
“Well, they should be. Hell, I’m going to need one after today.”
“I’m sure Harry will appreciate the company.”
“You know, I can always tell Harry you’re sorry.”
“No. Don’t. Just … take care of him,” I say hesitantly.
I don’t want Mohammad to make things better. Or right. I just want him to be there to support Harry.
“Always do,” he replies, his words hanging in the air. “You didn’t have to do that today.”
“It was a mistake.”
Mohammad clears his throat. “Text me from the States?”
“I will.” I nod to myself. And before I have a chance to overthink it, I say, “Bye.”
“Bye,” Mohammad replies as I click End on the call.
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