There are three things you must never do. One, kiss a stranger. Two, kiss a hot stranger. Three, kiss a hot stranger you might never see again.
Because if the hot stranger is a good kisser, you will never forget about it. And for the rest of your life, you will compare the kiss with others.
I groan into the pillow and drag myself out of bed. C has ruined my life. I kissed Jackson on the first day of school but it was different. It didn’t feel like C’s soft lips. It wasn’t demanding and gentle. Hot and needy and delicate. It was just Jackson. I push down those thoughts once I’m in the bathroom.
Amelia will start honking like a little angry bitch if she gets here and I’m not ready. I round up to the room for a change of clothes and finish off in front of the mirror. The dark roots of my hair contrast with the pink flowing down my shoulders. Dad hasn’t gotten over my new hair colour. Dani, my stepmom, thinks it’s cool. I think she’s cool.
My phone vibrates on the vanity and I let out a groan. I’m not ready yet. I pick and Amelia murmurs, “I can’t make it to your house today.”
I’m closer to her than the other two but we are all pretty close. Since I don’t have a car yet, thanks to my driving phobia, she is my ride to school. I hate riding with my dad. He asks too many questions.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Amelia replies. I sink into the chair and frown at my reflection in the mirror. My blue eyes are the colour of the sky after a heavy downpour. Right now, they don’t look as pretty as C’s. Fuck that guy anyway. “Just a little dizzy. My sister is staying home to babysit me.”
Her elder sister is a nurse in training. They do nice, girly stuff together that I can’t relate to as an only child.
Twirling a strand of my hair, I nod. “Take care.” A sound from outside catches my attention. I apply my eyeliner and rush to the window to check. Dad is coming up from the backyard with a dead rabbit. “Bye.”
“Bye. Don’t have too much fun without me.”
I’m still laughing after she ends the call. There is no real fun without Amelia. My head pokes out of my window. “Dad,” I scream. He waves. His shotgun swings from his shoulder. He is still in the business of going out to hunt in the wee hours of the morning. “Good morning.”
“Morning, sweetie.” He stops below my window. My room is on the first floor. “You slept well?”
“Yeah. You’ll be late.”
“I’m the principal,” he answers.
How did Dani fall in love with this local man? I close the curtains and return to the mirror. One last smack of my lips and I’m good to go. I’ll need to call Rose or just follow Dad to school. I jog down the flight of stairs with my books jiggling in my backpack and my feet falter on the last stair.
Dani is not alone in the living room. She’s talking to someone seated on the couch. It’s not Dad, she never uses that patronising tone on him. I step down but none of them notices me. She’s obstructing my view of the person. Hands propped on her waist, back rigid, I feel bad for whoever she’s talking to. But that thought doesn’t stop me from heading to the kitchen to grab breakfast.
I walk out of the kitchen with a jar of milk and a plate of pancakes. Dani is not in the living room but her guest is. His head is bowed over his phone but he isn’t pressing it. When I brush past his couch, he raises his head for the briefest second and… hold on a minute. I drop the plate on the dining table and walk right back to him.
C crosses his legs at the ankles, throws his arms over the couch, the couch my dad bought after my mum’s death. His eyes glide over me in a slow, appreciative sweep and I grow conscious of my pink long-sleeved top paired with black jeans.
I rub my hands over my eyes and look again. C is still here, staring at me with an arrogant smirk. I move towards him before my brain sends a signal to my feet. My hand lifts in an awkward wave.
“Hi. What are you doing here?”
His tongue swipes over his bottom lip and I am reminded of our kiss. I don’t know when C stands until he cups my jaw with one big palm. The warmth of his palm spreads through my face and my cheeks heat up. C is here. He’s real.
“What are you…”
He steals the rest of my words with a kiss, a painfully brief kiss and backs away. I release my breath when he sinks into the couch. My thoughts flood my mind in judgmental whispers.
What’s wrong with me? Kissing a stranger in my house? A stranger that might as well have been stalking me. No. Dani seems to know him so he can’t be a stalker. I steal another look at the familiar stranger. Without his overgrown beards and bushy moustache, C looks different, new and younger. The cut on his eyebrow is also gone.
Why did it take him so long to show up? Dani has been here for a month. If he had shown up when she did, I would never have kissed him.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
C grins and a dimple appears on his left cheek. His beards must have hidden it. My knees lock, legs turn to jelly. He’s so hot it’s unfair. My eyes lower to his arms and I wish he was wearing the tank top from that night, not a shirt that hides his tattoo. I clasp my arms at my back when his gaze strays to me.
“What do you think?” C teases.
Dani bursts into the living room at that point, saving me from his intense stares. She draws me in for a hug that makes me smile. Dani is nice. Maybe that’s why Dad loves her.
“Good morning, Cathy.” She holds me at arms length, following my curious gaze to the young man sitting on our couch like he owns the place and is about to kick us out. C’s eyes light up and I roll mine. Now, he knows my name and I don’t know his. “I see you met your brother.”
Brothers don’t kiss their sisters or leave them wanting for more of their kisses. That’s what C did to me. He crosses over to us and hugs Dani. She laughs when he places a sloppy kiss on her cheeks. There’s no trace of anger or annoyance to show she was scolding him earlier.
“Cathy, meet Calum, your brother.” He’s not my brother. We are not related. To Calum, she says, “Calum, meet your sister. Be nice to her.”
His nose flares. “Mum, I’m always nice.”
“Hmm, true.” Dani sizes her son up and smacks him playfully on his head. She mentioned a son, her only child but she didn’t say he was an adult male, a sexy one at that. “Pete is upstairs. He will be joining us in a bit.” She giggles like a little girl at the mention of my dad’s name. Me and Calum share a look. I’m the first to look away. I don’t want him to be my brother. She grabs his hand. “He’s so excited to meet you.”
Guess who isn’t excited to meet him? Me.
Side by side, the resemblance between the two of them becomes obvious. Identical blue eyes. Dirty blonde hair. Dani keeps her hair short, a little longer than a bob while Calum’s hair curls over his forehead. He could pass as Dad’s son based on eyes colours. Thankfully, he’s not. He’s not my brother.
“Where’s Amelia?” Dani directs at me.
“She can’t make it today,” I answer, gaze still glued to the floor. Our carpet is pretty. “Is Dad ready? I might have to go with him.”
Pushing me to the dining table, she says, “Yeah. He should be down in a minute. Finish up your breakfast so he will drop you off at school.”
“School?” Calum asks.
“Yeah, school. Carlton High. The best high school here within reasonable distance.” My heart shifts into overdrive. I school my face into a mask and pick the fork. Dani takes a seat at the head of the table. She’s not doing me a favour by freely giving Calum that information. “Her father is the principal”
A pin-drop silence settles over us. I don’t dare to look at Calum but I feel his gaze on the back of my head. I dig into my pancake that has lost its taste, chugging more of the milk to push the meal down.
Why did he have to show up today?
Calum heaves my backpack out of the second seat. “Is this yours?” Tongue tied, I can only nod. He settles into the empty seat. His knee brushes mine and I grip the glass. I clench my teeth when he throws an arm around my seat.
“I didn’t know you were in school, Cathy.” This is the first time he’s saying my name and it rolls off his tongue like the first part of a song. “You don’t look like you’re still in high school, sis.”
Because by nineteen, most people are in college, not high school. I might have lied.
“Really?” his mum cuts him off to defend me. I don’t want her to. She doesn’t understand what I did. “Weren’t you in high school at seventeen?” Dani adds a little too eagerly and I get the feeling she’s annoyed with her son. “Where would you prefer she was at this age? College?”
“Wait a fucking minute, Cathy is seventeen?”
“Calum,” his mum warns.
His head slowly turns to me, the familiarity in his eyes disappears and a cold glint creeps into them. Chills race down my spine. The pancake goes down the wrong pipe and I erupt in a coughing fit. Calum jumps into action, rubbing soothing circles on my back till I calm down.
“Sorry, sis,” he says in a tone as chilly as his smile.
Fuck him. I’m not and will never be his sister. He produces a handkerchief from his pocket for me to wipe off the mess I made on the dining table. I accept it with a big, fake smile.
“What do you think about your new brother?” Dad asks once we are inside the car. He doesn’t start the car. I wish he would so we can be out of here and away from anything that reminds me of Calum. “Your brother seems cool.” The relief I’ve been feeling since we left the house melts away. I click my seatbelt into place and tuck my bag between my legs. “He’s not my brother.” All it takes is one stern look from my dad for me to say, “I don’t think anything about him. Can we just go already?” Dad’s hand reaching for the key in the ignition drops. My head hangs in shame. “Sorry, Dad.” “Sorry for what?” “For raising my voice at you.” Since that day, he has been so conscious. Both of us. We have to hold each other accountable. He doesn’t look away and I lift my gaze to blue eyes matching mine. I have naturally black hair while he has brown. Dad takes my hand, the one with the tattoo. His finger hovers above the semicolon tattoo but he doesn’t touch it. He knew when I got it. “I just wa
The tall building of Carlton’s High stretches into the blue sky. Dad drives on to park his car, a smile on his lips as he tells me to have a good day. I walk up the stairs but the door opens before I reach it. Rose steps out first. Taylor is right on her heels. They flank me on each side, linking their hands through mine as we fall into step. “Amelia called us, she’s not coming today,” Rose says with a pout. “Who drove you?” “My dad.” They snicker. I elbow Rose in the rib but Taylor jumps out of my reach. I might have complained once or twice about my dad’s long talks during the rides to school. “It was not that bad.” As a matter of fact, it was going well until he-who-shall-not-be-mentioned showed up. Just the thought of him and the teasing kiss make my cheeks warm. What if Dani had stumbled in? “Next time, call me,” Rose says. I pout and she pinches my cheeks. “I’ll come pick you up, alright?” “Yeah, thanks.” The three of them might dare me to do the most ludicrous thin
“You’re late. Both of you,” Calum murmurs. His expression doesn’t crack as his gaze rakes over us. I’m newly reminded of his handsomeness and a blush rises to my cheeks. It’s unfair to be tortured this way. What’s he doing here? Rose grabs my hand. Calum’s head jerks up. “Excuse me?”Did I say that out loud?“Yes, you did,” Rose whispers. Her cheeks redden with second-hand embarrassment. Body flush against mine, she asks, “Do you have a death wish?”Calum watches our interaction for a bit. Feeling the annoyance rolling off him, I lace my fingers behind my back. “Are you done, both of you?”He keeps saying both of you but I think he means only me. “Yes, sir.” Sir feels so wrong coming from me but I’m not sure how to address him. And the main question still remains, what’s he doing here? Rose pokes me. “We&rsq
Never ever get your choir director upset if you already lied to him once. I’m learning that the hard way. And Dad can’t help me in this case. Dinner is a tense affair. Calum is seated beside me. Dad and Dani are on the other side of the table. I roll the spaghetti around my fork, half-waiting for Dad to say something in my defence or use his position as principal so Calum rethinks my punishment. “Calum,” Dad finally says. I try not to get too excited but a grin spreads to my lips. Dani catches my eyes and looks away but I see her smile before it disappears. “Don’t you think Cathy’s punishment is too harsh? Maybe reduce it to a week or two?” My stepbrother takes a bite from his dinner, then drops his fork on the plate. He clasps his hands on the table and levels Dad with a look that might have gotten me into trouble if I did the same. “Would you appreciate it if someone told you how to do your job?” Too low. Too fucking low. Dad raises his hands in surrender and my heart dips to
CALUMHow do you punish a liar? By ignoring her or taking away her most valuable items. In this case, it’s the choir. With her dad on my side, there’s no pressure to put that miscreant back on the team. In her absence, today’s practice goes by without any hiccups. The students are already warming up to me. I didn’t think that would happen so fast. But everything has been moving so fast since I agreed to come here. All Pete wanted to know after Mum told him about letting me handle the singing was if I had any music experience. I had ton shit of that. And it almost ruined me. Didn’t it? This is my first real gig since Mending Hearts crashed. The choir wasn’t part of my plan. My plan was to be low-key until I sort my shit out and decide my next move. But Mum hopes it will get me to sing and play again. So far, it’s working. Being a choir director involves showing off what you’ve got so the choristers can believe in themselves. I haven’t played the gui
One week later and I’m still not allowed to join the choir. This was not how I envisioned my last year in high school turning out. Rose claims practice is going on fine without me. How’s that possible when their lead solo singer is missing?Calum is a meanie. My stomach tightens at the thought of him. He has been ignoring me. He’s gone before I wake and only returns late in the evening to smoke. I should have reported him to Dad but I haven’t. He wanted to kiss me again that day. As much as I strongly dislike him, I like his lips. So, I wouldn’t have minded another kiss.I force one foot in front of the other till I’m at the door of my chemistry class. Mr Andy is at his desk waiting for the rest of the students. I am too early for the class and as I watch the bald man through the narrow pane of the door, I seriously consider running out of the school.Chemistry is too complicated. Maybe if Calum taught chemistry, I
Shock stops Amelia from acting fast. She shifts gears but it’s too late to do anything, so we are forced to stay put. I try to play it off with a smile but my heart is in my throat. Sweat breaks out on my forehead as Calum’s car slows to a stop directly beside ours. I look away. We are in big trouble. “Are you stalking me?” he asks, still in his car. This is our chance to race out of here. Calum slams his door shut and storms towards my side. No. I’m not the one driving. He should face Amelia. He wrenches the passenger door open. “Get out of the car.” I plant my foot firmly on the car floor. “No.” “Well, I asked nicely.” A scream escapes me as he drags me out of the car like I’m a ragged doll. I swallow my fears and force my face into a neutral mask when our eyes meet. His eyes are wide with anger and I know I have something to do with his temper. “I’ll ask again, were you stalking me?” “No. We came here for Rose.” “Rose, huh?” I nod again because it’s all I can do with
I’m not dumb, just different. Sitting in front of the mirror in my bathroom, that’s what I tell myself as I apply a new batch of pink dye to my hair. Is different good? Is it bad? I don’t know but I like the way Calum said it. I finish up soon and the dark roots of my hair are completely pink by the time I wash off the dye my hair. “Cathy. Calum. Lunch is ready,” Dani screams from downstairs. “Be down immediately.” I step out of my room and wait by the door for Calum to show up so we can go together. He doesn’t. If he had gone downstairs, I would have known or heard him, all thanks to the not-so-thin walls. He has to pass by my room since it’s closer to the staircase. I start towards Calum’s room. I’ll only tell him lunch is ready and leave. Easy to do. His door is slightly ajar. I slip in and stand still, trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness. The curtains are drawn, the lights are switched off. I know he’s in the room. Calum doesn’t go out on Saturdays. A phone vibrates