The Umbrella

William stepped through the door and ran a hand through his rain soaked dark hair, grinning happily at me. “It’s pouring out there,” he announced, pulling off his boots. I rolled my eyes and shoved more cereal into my mouth, glancing at the clock. If my mother hadn’t been upstairs changing Graham, I would have just dumped it in the sink and let the garborator have it. She never cared how late I was for school; breakfast was the most important meal of the day. I still had to start a load of laundry, print one of my history reports, and make my bed. Determination to get it all done before school overrode my abhorrence to being late.

“Hey, take your time,” William said, taking a seat without removing his dripping jacket. “We’re only six minutes late.” To prove his point, he kicked his feet up onto the nearest chair flashing me a movie-star smile. I paused my hurrying to shoot a glare at him. Sometimes Will could be really annoying. The fact that he was all the while so charming made it even more frustrating. He closed his lips hastily, realizing that I was not amused.

“Well, I think it’s funny. Class doesn’t start for another twenty minutes anyway.” He reached over and patted my hand. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“You can go upstairs and start making my bed while I do some laundry.” He nodded and bounded up the stairs, at least dropping his jacket over the boots in the entrance.

Finished with the dumb cereal, I dumped the empty bowl in the sink and raced to the laundry room. I wouldn’t even be late if my little brother Graham hadn’t puked up his breakfast all over my brand-new Vicotti blouse, if I hadn’t had to dig around for my half-finished English report, and feed the cat because Rachel had forgotten to.

Everything was done, and Will was waiting by the door with my bag. He had even packed me a granola bar and an apple. “Come on, let’s go!” I said, grabbing his hands and dragging him out the door. he scrambled with the umbrella he only used when I was around and held it over my head as he opened the passenger door to his old Ford Focus. We screeched into the parking lot as the warning bell rang.

“See you later!” I said, pecking him on the cheek. I had to slow down in the emptying hall, my wet shoes squeaking on the floor. History class was at the far end of the building and two stories up, mocking me like one of Presto’s laughing little friends.

“Oh, excuse me!” apologized a girl as she barrelled passed me, almost knocking me over. I didn’t have time to respond. The last bell rang, and I slipped into a seat at the back of the class as the lesson began. Mr. Appleby gave me a look, but he couldn’t say anything.

It was a horrible day to be at school. On top of the usual dreariness, the rain fell like a constant bad omen. I don’t think anyone was paying any attention to Mr. Appleby. We all stared morosely out the window. It wasn’t any better at lunch, but rain-loving William didn’t mind at all.

“Let’s go out for lunch!” he said, bounding over to me and pulling me close to him. “Lunchtime rush at Mildred’s hasn’t started yet, and it’s raining so I doubt many people will come, so if we go now we should get free milkshakes!”

Sometimes I swore my boyfriend was crazy. “Will, it’s raining. I’m not even dry from this morning.”

We walked toward the cafeteria where the nearest exit to the lot was. William had to stop and talk to almost everyone on the way. “Oh, come on, Haley. A little rain won’t hurt you.” He turned pleading, breath-taking green eyes on me, making my own brown ones narrow. No matter how much I tried not to be taken in by his eyes, they always got to me every single time. The worst part was that he knew it.

Though Will was six feet tall, he was as friendly as a puppy and caring as a saint, but he could also be as deadly as a nuclear weapon. I had witnessed his sheer strength before. The memory made me shudder. There was something so odd about him, and even after four years he still made me wonder. I felt like I didn’t really know him, in that mysterious, mistakable way.

“Fine,” I sighed. “Just make sure you bring the umbrella. And that we are on time.” He smiled widely, stopping to kiss me. Electricity surged up my spine, cementing my decision to go with him. Breaking my will not to.

The only thing Will enjoyed more than manipulating me was spoiling me. It was unbearably sweet. Everything about him was unbearable and addictive. He held the umbrella over my head, preferring to walk in the rain, and constantly made sure I wasn’t too cold in the horrid weather. Mildred’s was barely a stone’s throw away, but I was shivering by the time we got in. Will was right: we were the only ones there.

“Hey, lovebirds,” said Shirley, bringing us our menus. “Not the best weather for dates, eh?”

I shot Will a look, but he was grinning at Shirley, his hair dripping water onto the floor. “My kind of day. I love the rain.”

“Yes, Will, we know,” Shirley and I said in unison. He laughed at us. She went back to order the usual, with a promise of strawberry milkshakes.

“So, how was school?” Will asked, taking my hands to warm them up.

“Boring. I missed you.” The confession made me look down and blush, and he chuckled quietly. “Plus, even though I wasn’t technically late, Mr. Appleby assigned us all extra homework. He didn’t actually say it was because of me, but I swear he gave me a look.” I shook my head. “Sometimes it feels like that teacher hates me.”

Will nodded sympathetically. “That’s rough. Are you sure you don’t want to switch into Mrs. Skein’s class next semester? And Ps: I missed you too.” Shirley put down our shakes. I wrapped mine in a napkin to avoid skin contact. His words made me uncomfortable and doubtful. In almost every way, Will was the perfect boyfriend, too good to be true. Though we had only technically been dating one year, we had known each other and been hanging out a lot for four, and I had never completely relaxed. Teenage boys don’t propose their love and mean what they say. it’s just not logical. I kept waiting for the moment when he would realize that. It made me sad. So why didn’t I just switch classes? Because I was chicken, that’s why.

“I’m sure, Will. I like Mr. Appleby’s teaching better than Mrs. Skein’s, even if I like Mrs. Skein better.” I gazed at him wistfully. I certainly would never be bored in his class. When our food arrived, I bit into my burger ravenously, trying to hide my edginess.

When he wasn’t chewing, Will gave me a detailed description of the exciting events of his day. It was almost time to start walking back to school when we had finished our meal. Will had run out of stories, and for a moment he stared at me.

“You’re really beautiful, you know that, Haley?” he said quietly.

Tears sprung to my eyes, and my hand came up automatically, trying to discreetly wipe them away before he saw. It was too late. He let go of my hands.

“Ah, come on, why do you do that every time I give you a compliment?” he asked just as softly, and I didn’t want to look up to see the hurt in his eyes. “I don’t get you, Haley. Sometimes it feels like you don’t even want to be around me. Like, at all.”

I hiccupped, not saying anything. what was the point? Still, the tears freely flowed.

“Please,” William whispered, his voice rough and frustrated. “Please tell me why. I’ve been trying to figure it out, but I just can’t. I try to be as nice to you as I can, but you are always just out of reach…” he brushed his fingers along my cheek, wiping away my tears.

I scrubbed at my face, embarrassed beyond salvage. I was so not good at this whole relationship thing. “It’s not that,” I said tearfully. “It’s just that…i keep waiting for you to realize that this whole thing is a hoax.” I’m waiting for you to walk away. Or run away would be more like it.

“A hoax?” he echoed, surprised and confused. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

I pushed on. “I mean, why are we together?”

Finally I looked into his eyes, expecting him to be angry or something. Even to my ears, they sounded like break-up words, though I hadn’t meant them that way at all. I just didn’t get it. didn’t get him.

“Haley,” he sighed, coming around and sitting beside me on the booth. I let him put his arm around me and leaned into him. “Why don’t you believe me? I’m not going to leave you, okay? Never. I know you don’t think men are any good, but I swear I’m not like Hammond and Frank. What can I do to prove that to you?” he kissed my forehead. “I love you.” My cheek… “And I’m not going anywhere.” My body was shaking with suppressed sobs, but he tightened his grip on me, making them subside. My lips met his. “Okay?” he said, pulling away to look at me. I nodded, eyes staring at the floor under the table. He pulled me up so we could pay the bill.

I knew Will was telling the truth. But the thing was, no matter how much someone could believe something in the moment, there was always room for change in the future. It wasn’t lying if you believed it entirely.

Things change, and people change.

Will was always getting in trouble for doodling in class. Or rather, producing rare quality works of art during class. He was amazingly talented, creating detailed still-life and inimitable cartoons. He mostly liked to draw elaborate crosses swathed in swirling patterns of flowers and jewels. Most of the masterpieces he gave to me, and I have a large press book of all of them, dating back to the very first time we met, September 15, 2007.

“You should really become a serious artist,” I told him, eyebrows raised in amazement as I gazed at the intricate red rose with the green stem. He hadn’t really answered, but I think he was thinking about it.

Now we had three minutes to get to class, but he dragged me to his locker. At least Algebra II was right next door. “I was going to wait until our anniversary next week,” he said as he rummaged through his book bag and binders and locker bins, “but now seems like a better time than any. It’s not quite done”—he handed me a heavy piece of paper, unfolded and still smooth after smothering in his messy locker—“but here.”

I took in surprised breath, hand flying to my mouth. It was a black-and-white of him and I by a calm river, much like the Fleuve St-Laurent in Quebec. He had his arm around me and was gazing at me with his teasing grin, and I had the telltale darkness of a blush on my cheeks as I stared at the rocks  at my feet. While I stared at the picture, the bell rang.

I went rigid. Late again!

“It’s beautiful,” I said, reaching up on tiptoes to kiss his lips. “But can we talk later?” He caught my hand and squeezed it, nodding once, almost to himself.

In the classroom, I was surprised to see all the desks were pulled to the wall and everyone was sitting in a loose circle on the floor. They were all chatting amiably. When I walked in, the laughter stopped, and all eyes were on me.

“Miss Williams,” barked Mrs. Beckony, standing up to meet me. Will got a kick out of my last name because on class lists it always appeared as “Williams, Haley”. I coughed self consciously as Mrs. Beckony made her way to the imposing teacher’s desk. “Late again, I see?” Again? “Well, as you know, tardiness is not acceptable in my class. Detention! Three o’clock.”

The class oohed, and I gaped. I didn’t argue, though, just slumped on the floor next to Abigail, my ex-step-sister but closest friend.

“As for the rest of you,” Mrs. Beckony went on, “the next time anybody is late, that will be a class detention for a week. Understood?” everyone mumbled their assent, shifting not-so-subtle glares at me. I blushed like crazy, pulling my shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail.

“The reason the room is this way is that our class has been chosen for a special project,” Mrs. Beckony went on, rage spent. I shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor. Mrs. Beckony didn’t explain the oddity any farther, and told us to pull out our books so we could begin class.

Algebra II was the last thing I could concentrate on.

Will. I really wished I could trust him. Teenage boys don’t talk the way he did to me. Call me sexist, but they weren’t supposed to be that deep, that caring, all the time. I knew I had to since he was my ride home, but the last thing I wanted to do was tell him about my detention, because one, he would feel guilty since it kind of was his fault, and two, because it might compel him to do something completely crazy to get me out. I smiled, remembering my last detention. Let’s just say it involved a lot of glue, some fireworks, and a stray dog that never did find its way home again. (haha, did you think something bad happened to it? It’s Will’s best friend now, and he named it Scooter.) I called my mother about the detention and she gave me the gears, which made me dread going home tonight. I waited for Will by his locker.

The rain was starting to let up again. as students prepared to go home, rain jackets were forgotten on the bench as they ran out to greet the feeble sun. It seemed very temporary. The halls emptied and the clock crawled closer to three, and Will hadn’t yet arrived.

“Hey, look what we have here!” said a voice, startlingly close. Ice dripped down my spine when I realized who it was. Preston Patrezlo, Tough Guy With A Bad Rep. Also Guy Who Hates People Named Haley Williams. “It’s Haley…but no Will? did I miss something?” his groupies flanked him, surrounding me. I tried to keep my gaze steady, but my butterflies were having a Cirque de Soleil. Patrezlo had a motorcycle and smoked pot by the playground after school. Need I say more? He and Will used to be best friends, way back when, before I came along and “ruined everything”. His words. It surprised me that even sixteen-year-old boys could have such girly, you-stole-my-best-friend jealousies.

“Oh, right, I forgot,” Preston went on when I didn’t say anything. “When Will isn’t around, Haley can’t talk!” He stood very close now, beady little pig’s eyes staring right at me. Choking with terror, I tried to move away but he caught my arm painfully. “Let go, Preston!” I gasped. It was coming back too quickly now, that night by the trash bins. I couldn’t get away, no one was helping, they were all laughing…William. where was Will?

“Letting her go might be a good idea right about now.” We both turned. Mitchell Reynolds stood a couple feet away outside of Preston’s circle, glaring at Preston with razor sharp eyes. For the first time I noticed the curious onlookers, wondering what was going on. I twisted again in Preston’s grip. Preston growled something at Mitchell, and the hairs raised on the back of my neck. Then I saw Will barrelling down the hall.

“You come back here young man!” shouted Mr. Springfield, the detention supervisor, as he waddled after him. Preston’s groupies were forced to shift away as he skidded to a stop just inches from smacking into me..

“Haley! I’m sorry! I can’t drive you home tonight because I have a detention, but they wouldn’t let me out to let you know!” Mr. Springfield stood there panting, glaring at Will.

I laughed. “Hey, Will, it’s fine. I have a detention too.” I stepped away from Preston as though our little exchange had never happened. “We can go together.”

Will smiled his big smile. “Speaking of going together…Mr Springfield, could you give me just thirty seconds, and I promise I will follow you to prison and be a perfect angel.”

If Will’s eye-trick worked on men, Mr. Springfield wouldn’t have stood a chance. He glared passively. “Do I have a choice? And for every second you waste, I’m adding on another minute to both of your detentions.”

Will nodded. “Deal!” He dove into his jeans pocket and pulled a ring case out. My eyes went wide.  “Haley,” he said, getting down on one knee. “I know this is sudden but—” he grinned a heart-stopping grin. “Will you go to the dance with me next Friday?”

I let out my breath in a whoosh. “Will! you almost gave me a heart attack!” I put a hand to my fluttering chest. “Of course I’ll go to the dance with you!” He slipped the ring onto my trembling finger still smiling like a maniac. There was a slightly-too-big mutli-coloured candy jewel attached to the fake plastic gold. A custom ring-pop. My stomach clenched, and not in a good way.

“Shall we be off to the jail room?” he asked, offering me his arm. Mr. Springfield grunted and started walking. A few of the onlookers clapped, before rushing out to catch their buses. I put my hand on Will’s strong forearm, almost stumbling on my own feet as we walked. It didn’t help that he halted again after just three steps.

“Oh, and Preston?” he looked over his shoulder. They were still watching us. For a second deadly Will showed through. “Leave Haley alone.” he tucked an arm around my waist and pulled me toward the detention room. I heard Preston make a mocking sound in the back of his throat, but I didn’t care as long as Will was around when he struck again.

My mother was too busy baby talking to Graham when I got home from work at seven to do much more than glare at me. Graham blew a bubble at me. “Ayleee!” he gurgled. It was hard not to give him at least one hug. Once again, I was struck by how much he looked like the Deplorable It, even at three years old.

The thing with my father was, he had been a drunk. Only by night, though. During the day he was almost civil, when he wasn’t fighting a hangover. One day he decided he didn’t love us anymore, guzzled the entire cupboard, and left. On his way out of town he hit a minivan, instantly killing a young family of four. He died after three hours in the hospital.

Rachel was able to avoid most of his genes, but Graham and I were imprinted with his light brown hair and black-brown eyes, tall, lanky build, and suspicious personalities. Or at least, I had the suspicious personality. Graham was more like a Mini Me of Will.

My step father Frank hadn’t been much better than It. He was always critical and wanted things exactly his way, was nice enough for us to like him just a little bit for a while, and then turned back around with his temper tantrums. He was like a three-year-old kid. After living with him, I got into the habit of convincing myself that what he said and did was no big deal, he never actually hit us, there were people in worse condition than we were. It was the alternative to the searing hot rage I felt after one of his episodes. The truth was, he was downright mean. I always knew deep down that there was something wrong with him. I was still surprised when my mother told me that he had repeatedly raped his sister as a youth. I didn’t think it was illegal kind of wrong. She also told me that he had a habit of going on multiple dating sites, which surprised me even more. The truth was out: he was that bad.

She told me all of this one hour before she told him that it was over. She made me promise not to tell anybody, as in, absolutely nobody. She sent Rachel and I out of the house, because Frank was nonetheless known for his temper even if he didn’t touch us. When we came back, he was sitting on the sofa, staring at the floor. My mother told Rachel to take their wedding picture off the wall, and he said, “Didn’t take you long to take that down.”

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the whole thing.

I told Will about it as soon as I was allowed, and he held me as I cried. I was fifteen at the time, and we had just started dating, but we had been friends and he knew what a horrible person Frank was. He also knew about my father, and probably realized that I was on the verge of a serious complex about men. It was just a shame that it had carried through and that I was still dealing with it, after all this time.

Two history reports were due tomorrow, plus some math homework and a few Spanish vocabulary words to memorize. it wasn’t long before I was thinking about Will again. He had a late basketball practice tonight, and a game next Saturday, the day of the dance. I loved watching him play, his gleaming, hard muscles bunching and springing like the mechanism of an intricate machine.


“If x plus fourteen divided by six over pi to the power of three is equal to y times two—” I mumbled,. Stupid algebra. Contrary to popular belief, Will was a brilliant student. If he was here we would be done in ten minutes flat, and then we could’ve have gone for ice cream or something. Except I was in trouble for that detention.

Giving up on my homework for a minute, I pulled Will’s drawing from my bag. He could never do himself justice. The picture was fine, of course, but it didn’t have any of his essence, and his lips were slightly wrong, as were the delicate shapes of his eyes and the curve of his nose. The beauty only went skin deep. I smiled sadly, and put the picture in the press book with the others.

The rain was worse than it had been yesterday. Now the grass looked soggy, the trees drooping and glum. It was approaching flood conditions. Will, of course, was delighted. I made sure we weren’t late for school today. We were so early that he had time to escort me to class, and no one else was there. The desks were all back to normal. Will helped me with my homework.

“It’s quite simple, really, once you understand the concepts,” he said. He was so cute when he was deep in thought. “Are you paying attention?” he asked, after apparently asking me the same thing twice. I jerked awake, blinking away the image of him dripping wet, smiling his smile.

“Um, yeah. Totally.”

He tapped my nose. “Come on, Haley. I know I’m distracting, but can you please focus?”

I nodded, but kissed him anyway. Who needed school? Grinning, he pushed me away. It really didn’t take all that long for him to explain everything to me, and then I did the problems while he played with my hair. The motions of his fingers actually helped me concentrate. He left before mean old Mr. Appleby and the class arrived. Mr. Appleby nodded at me, and I think he might have even smiled.

Mitchell Reynolds sat beside me for a minute. “Are you okay, Haley?”

I raised my eyebrows. “You mean yesterday? I’m fine. Preston’s just not very nice.”

He laughed. “That’s an understatement. We should petition to have him excommunicated.”

“Yeah, if only.” He went back to his seat, still laughing a little bit.

Mitchell was the student body president, and though I hadn’t voted for him, he was still pretty decent. While we were having lunch at Mildred’s again, I asked Will if he knew him. For some reason, his friendly green eyes went dark.

“Yes, I know him,” he said tightly. My skin prickled at the tone of his voice. I decided to let it go.

“I’m really excited about the dance,” I said, changing the subject.

He brightened, picking up my hand and fingering my ring. “It’s going to be great. My friend Henry is a photographer and he’ll be taking pictures for me to draw later. We’re going to sell them. college money.”

“Have you thought about what you want to be?” I asked. His potential careers changed from police officer to veterinarian to millwright to every other thing in as little as a week.

“I think I want to stick with the architect thing. My friend’s studying to be an architect and she says it’s fun.”

For some reason the image didn’t fit. I imagined him as some sort of hotel manager or something else that involved smiling at people and wearing a suit and tie. Then I blanched. That was thinking about the future. The future wasn’t my favourite subject.

“What about you, Haley?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

He squeezed my hands, and his eyes told me that it was okay. Not everyone is completely sure all the time.

“The special project is still in effect,” said Mrs. Beckony when we had all settled down. “Please hand in your assignments from yesterday.”

I got up way too early on Saturday. I woke up to predawn semi-darkness, wondering why I was awake. I stared up at the ceiling for a while, and then it hit me: something was wrong. Downstairs, I heard the creak of the floorboards under feet that were trying to be quiet. My heart leapt to my mouth. It sounded like the person was opening drawers, shuffling the papers that were always on the kitchen table. and then the front door slammed close. Jumping up, I ran to my window in time to see a red car back out of our drive and speed away down the road. There was only one person I knew who had a red Audi with that particular license number. Frank. My ex-step-dad. What the heck had he been doing in the house?

I jumped as the scream of tires ripped through the air again. whipping my head to the window, I saw that car again. Frank got out, and scanned the side of the house until he found me at my window, frozen like a mouse. And all he did was look at me.

It was a miracle I didn’t faint when he finally drove away.

“Haley, come on, there’s got to be at least one you like!” Abigail said, drowning under a pile of dresses while I shivered in the changing room. “What about the blue one? Or the strapless? You look great in orange—”

“No, I don’t, Abigail! They are all horrible! I hate dress shopping!” I could barely keep my voice down.

“I know, you do, but we can’t be here all day. I have to be at work by four, and when Mr. Brooklyn says four, he means three-thirty.”

I sighed. “Okay, okay. Can you hand me the white one again? The one with the purple sash.” I knew I could have just come back another day, but I wanted to get this over with. The dress didn’t look half-bad on me, coming down to my ankles in seashell-like ripples. It was strapless, and when I put my hair up with my bangs hanging down, I actually looked kind of sophisticated. Okay, so I would take this one. Next up, my second least-favourite activity: shoe-shopping.

“Don’t worry, Haley, I knew just the pair the moment you picked that dress!” said Abigail as I stormed into the store. Her bobbing red head disappeared for a minute behind a rack, and she resurfaced holding a pair of strappy two-inch stilettos. “Picture yourself in these!” she squealed.

I closed my eyes. “Oh, there I am! I’m walking, but wait, what’s that? I’m falling! Snap! There goes my ankle. Bummer, guess I can’t dance anymore.”

Abigail smacked my arm. “Don’t be ridiculous, Haley. These are harmless. If you don’t like them, we can look for others…” she let the threat hang.

“You know what? They’re perfect, Abigail. Thank you.”

She tried to smile gently, but I could see the tightness of her face. “I know you’re nervous about William, Haley, but he thinks you look nice in everything. I really wish you could see what a sincere guy he is.”

I sighed. Me too.

“Want to go for ice cream before I go?” she asked, tucking the shoe box in with my dress.

I shook my head. “My mom wants me to baby-sit Graham while she—hey, is that William now?”

“Speak of the devil!” Abigail drawled, slapping her knees with glee. It was him. dripping wet. Walking beside him was an equally dripping, tall blond girl, and they were laughing. Will pointed at something, and they started off in that direction, walking so close they bumped into each other once in a while.

All I could think was, huh? A little pang of jealousy stabbed me. forcing it down and not daring to look at Abigail, I walked after him.

“Hey, Will!” I said with forced cheerfulness.

The blond girl looked at me curiously, a smile playing on her perfect pink lips. “Haley!” Will exclaimed, pulling me in a giving me a kiss. “What a coincidence! This is Juliana, a friend of mine who moved away before you came along.” He beamed at her. “And this is Haley, and my other friend Abigail.” The way he said my name made me think that he had mentioned me before. She extended her hand. It was soft and delicate. Disgustingly so. I had the urge to wipe my own hand on my pants.

“Abigail and I were just, um, shopping. We were just leaving.” I could tell that he wanted to continue on his visit with Juliana. But I had to take a little bit of wind out of her sail, so I reached up and kissed Will deeply. I could tell he was kind of surprised. “See you tonight?” I asked.

“Sure. How about supper at Mildred’s?”

I couldn’t help wrinkling my nose. “We always go to Mildred’s. How about we go uptown to Saunche’s?”

He kissed me once on the cheek before letting me go. Abigail rolled her eyes at Juliana. “Pick you up at seven.” They started off toward the west end.

I nearly ran in the opposite direction.

“Haley, hold up!” said Abigail, grabbing my arm. I slowed down a little. “Haley, you are the most paranoid, jealous girl I have ever seen!” I stopped in my tracks, tears blurring my eyes.

“What are you so upset about?” I snapped, confused and hurt. I thought I had handled it pretty well, petty jealousies aside.

“You!” she said, dropping the bags and crossing her arms. “And the fact that you’re still convinced he’s out to get you! He would never hurt you, Haley!”

There was no denying it. “Yeah, well.” I slumped slightly.

She glared at me. “You’re going to screw things up with him one day. And you’re only letting the Deplorable It win by letting him mess up your relationship with Will. I hope you realize that.” She picked up the bags again and tried to storm away, but I followed her.

“If I’m so bad for him, maybe we shouldn’t be together, Abigail,” I said, so quietly I barely heard myself.

She whirled on me again. “You would like that, wouldn’t you, Haley. Not have to worry anymore? Well, guess what, it would kill him.” she let her eyes boar into mine. “Yeah, that’s right. kill him. He loves you, Haley. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”

“He’s only sixteen!”

Her eyes softened slightly. “Yeah, that’s what’s so terrible about it. I’m sure he didn’t want to burden you with anything, but let me just tell you that what he has been through has made his wild days go by like lightning. He’s really not sixteen anymore.”

I stood rooted to the place. “What kind of things?’

“Ask him yourself!” she said. “I’m not your boyfriend.”

She shoved my shopping bags at me, and we walked along in silence.

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