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By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw

My cheeks burn. Before I get a chance to say anything, Delilah slams my door. It bounces back open, and the sound of her feet hitting the steps grows further away.

I pace my room for a solid thirty minutes, dabbing concealer on my chin each time I pass my mirror.

Mom calls my name from downstairs.

Dinner must be ready. I holler down that I’ll be there in a minute, and then run back to my dresser to fix my hair one last time. I can never get these topknots to lay the right way. And I have so much damn hair, I don’t know what to do with it half the time. Why can’t I just have straight, shiny, perfect hair like everybody else?

“Need help?” A boy’s voice startles me.

I whip around to see Royal in my doorway. I kick myself for leaving the door open.

“What are you doing up here?” I spit.

“Everyone’s waiting on you downstairs. Dinner’s ready.”

Great. Now I’m going to walk downstairs and my whole family’s going to be staring at me. They’re going to see that I changed my clothes and put on makeup.

God, I feel so stupid now.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” I say.

“You said that twenty minutes ago.” He takes another step into my room. How rude. “They told me to come rescue you. Now come on. I’ll personally escort you to the dinner table, Princess.”

Royal grabs my arm, and butterflies swarm my stomach.

Was. Not. Expecting. That.

I get lightheaded. I think my heart’s racing too fast. I need to sit down. I need him to go away.

Yanking my elbow from his grip, I roll my eyes.

“Don’t.” I swallow hard.

He smirks, and I notice a dimple in his right cheek. Was it always there? Royal’s lashes are long and dark, and they frame his deep blues perfectly. He has the girliest eyes I’ve ever seen. Why am I just now noticing these things?

“You coming or what?” He’s in the hallway now. “Saved you a place.”

Royal winks. I release the smile I’ve been biting away as soon as his back is turned.

He’s annoying. But cute. Kind of.


Demi, Age 15

{two years later}

“Derek was supposed to teach me how to drive.” I’m seated in the front of Royal’s beat-up Chevy. It’s rusty and the exhaust is super loud. I’ve seen him drive around town in this thing before, and he acts like he’s so hot. Girls hang off the tailgate in the high school parking lot after school like it’s some exclusive club.

Just so happened that my parents decided to take their Jamaican anniversary cruise during my fifteenth birthday. My learner’s permit is burning a hole in my wallet. Two weeks is a long time to wait when you’re fifteen.

“Yeah, well, Derek chose summer break to get mono, so you get me instead.” Royal jingles the keys. “Put your left foot on the clutch and your right foot on the brake.”

“This is a stick?” My voice cracks. I grip the skinny steering wheel of the old blue beater.

He shoves the key in the ignition, cranks it to the right, and grabs my right hand. He moves it to the black gear shifter. I can’t read the letters or numbers. They’re all worn off. I only see a funny looking grid.

Royal’s hand grips mine as his truck roars to life.

“This is first gear,” he says as our hands move forward. He pulls the knob down, my hand trapped under his, and it feels looser now. “This is neutral.” He wiggles it back and forth so I can see, and then he brings the stick toward us. “This is second.”

He goes through all the gears with me two more times, then makes me show him on my own.

“Okay. I get it now,” I say.

“Shift into first,” he says. “Carefully take your right foot off the brake and move it to the gas. Let the clutch out slow—”

The clutch is springy. The second I let up on it, it pops all the way out and his truck goes lurching forward. It bounces to a stop and the engine dies.

“Damn it.” I pound my fist on the steering wheel and curse Derek under my breath. Why’d he have to go and get mono right now?

“Demi, it’s fine. Let’s try again. Shift into neutral. Stick your left on the clutch and your right on the brake and start it up again.”

It only takes four tries before we’re barreling down the side street that runs past my neighborhood. In the distance, a red octagon comes into view.

“I don’t know how to stop. How do I stop? Royal? What do I do?” I white-knuckle the steering wheel like no one’s business.

He laughs. I’d slap him, but I’m busy holding on like my life depends on it.

“Left on the clutch, right foot gentle on the brake. Give yourself plenty of time. Come to a slow stop.”