Joining our high school radio station when I hated to talk was probably one of the worst decisions I’d ever made. Until I met Hailey Bosler.
Not that she was responsible for the state of my shitty life, but she certainly wasn’t making it easier. Okay, that wasn’t true. The bubblegum twin radio deejay talents of Lindsey and Lucy Latni weren’t making it easier. It wasn’t Hailey’s fault said deejays were gushing about her band’s arrival as if some pop star had autographed their not-insubstantial chests.
It also wasn’t her fault the twins were ordering me around like a lackey, instead of respecting that I was the only one in the room actually certified to use the control board. And it wasn’t her fault my head was pounding not only from girl squeals but also because I’d had a near panic attack earlier, forcing me to skip the minefield of lunch in our cafeteria.
Still, my afternoon was being sucked up by these girls, and I couldn’t squelch my crap attitude toward Hailey and the rest of Blinders On.
Blinders On. Stupid name. Although I had to admit after hearing their GarageBand mix that as far as local bands went, they didn’t suck like most of the usual talentless hacks the Latni twins frothed over.
“They’re here,” Lindsey squealed. Or maybe it was Lucy. “Girl band in the hoooussse.”
A strange shimmy dance ensued wherein the twins proved yet again their astounding ability to derail the musical integrity of a band until it was the equivalent of a bowl of glitter-covered kibble.
I didn’t say this, of course. Like I didn’t say most things that popped in my head. Too many words. Out loud.
I looked down at the control board and bit the inside of my cheek, letting the high-decibel vapidity of the twins drown out my racing thoughts. I took a deep breath and pushed away the anxiety of meeting unknown people. Disappear. Fade into the background. Blend. Then I peeked at Hailey.
Worn jeans, soft stretchy shirt, her blond hair pulled into a loose braid. Damn. She was exactly my type: hot in this really normal way, not done up, just casual, either too aware of her own beauty to care or not aware enough to realize the amount of space she filled in the room. Which was considerable.
My brain grabbed hold of an image of the two of us alone in the darkened radio studio, me actually being suave for once in my life and her drawn in by all my moves. Then, because it’s my brain, it continued on to play the entire scenario out to its slightly inappropriate conclusion. God, what would that be like? I inched forward in my chair, more than a little aware of the semihard state of my junk. What was wrong with me? Three quick breaths, then I peeked at her again.
She eyed the girls dancing around her, brunette ponytails whipping in some sort of coordinated twin ritual, and crossed her arms as if she were observing animals at a zoo. Her nose scrunched and flared enough for me to read a hint of disgust.
I hid a smirk when I caught her slight head shake. She was hot and understood irony. I liked her already. Damn.
“Hey, guys,” she said in a scratchy, low voice. I loved that kind of voice in girls. Equal parts Avril Lavigne, Elle King, and Melissa Etheridge. Classic. “Thanks for having us in.”
“Of course,” a twin chirped. “You all are so amazing.” Then the Latnis clapped their hands and Hailey adjusted her braid as if she was well aware how damn awkward all this fangirling was, and was not in any way impressed.
I stared too long at her, barely even noticing the two girls behind her. Emo girls. All black clothes. Too much makeup. Too many piercings. Hailey was a wildflower in the midst of skunk-weed. Sunny and warm and stupid sexy. Completely oblivious to my presence at the board. Which was probably best.
I likely would’ve stared even longer, enough to really embarrass myself, but my phone buzzed in my pocket. I jerked it out with so much impatience it half slipped from my grasp before my fingers closed around it. Only two people texted me, and one of them was at soccer practice.
Mom: Scrips are ready to pick up. Don’t forget the rest of your to-do list.
As if I’d ever forget. My jaw tensed, and I typed a quick reply.
Kyle: Got it.
I shoved the phone back in my pocket and checked out the girls again.
Hailey’s eyes moved back and forth, almost twitching as they searched the room. Beautiful eyes, blue green with big pupils, but something was wrong with them. They moved too much. Like she was on something, but that didn’t match up with the rest of her.
She stepped deeper into the control room and scanned the space for a place to sit. Her eyes darted, darted. I sat up half an inch to help her, but then slumped down. What was I doing? The space wasn’t that big. Not much to look at, and maybe a little dark, but she clearly had other people to help. Her eyes landed on me for less than a second. My hands shook a little as I watched her grope for the plastic seat. Not blindly grope, but sort of tipsy-drunk I hope I’m not sitting in vomit grope.
She planted herself slightly off center on the chair and laughed as she adjusted her position. “Sorry.”
The vulnerability of it all damn near killed me. Those eyes. She was somehow broken. Crap. Crap. Crap. Beautiful, confident, and broken—the girl triple threat. She wasn’t broken like me, but enough that I wanted to know her. I imagined a whole conversation between us.
“What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Why don’t you speak?”
“I don’t see so well.”
“I don’t talk so well.”
And then I would ask her if she wanted to be the third person who texted me. One more name in my pathetic contact list. And she wouldn’t even hesitate in saying yes.
For a second I allowed my thoughts to linger on the fantasy, our imagined conversation so real in my head I almost spoke. Almost introduced myself. But then, what the hell for? A third person who texted would be a third person I disappointed.
Instead, I turned back to the control board and cued up the next song. I let the voices of the twins swirl around me. They pointed Hailey’s friends to the other chairs and started gossiping about the people from their last few interviews. I ignored it, pretended I didn’t care. She was just another girl. High school was full of them, and they were all equally hard to deal with. Equally scary.
“Kyle,” Lucy snapped. Or maybe it was Lindsey. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled.
“Well, what do we do?”
Speak into the microphone and try not to sound like an idiot.
I pointed to the two microphones set up in front of them, one for Hailey and her emo backup girls, one for Team Latni. “At the end of the song, start talking.”
Lindsey clucked at me. Or maybe it was Lucy. Then she turned back to Hailey. Hailey’s eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward slightly, peering at me. Peering like I wasn’t another part of the equipment in the room. The feeling came back, the ache to connect with her, but just as quickly, panic took over my brain, spinning through the millions of reasons why connecting would be a terrible idea.
Nothing to see here. Move along. I didn’t have it in me to get interested in a girl like Hailey, or any girl, really. I was too intrigued by her already and she’d barely said three words. I faded the song and engaged the microphones.
It starts with a list of fears. Stupid things really. Things that Hailey shouldn’t worry about, wouldn’t worry about if she didn’t wake up every morning with the world a little more blurry. Unable to see her two moms clearly. Unable to read the music for her guitar. One step closer to losing the things she cares about the most.
For a while, the only thing that keeps Hailey moving forward is the feeling she gets when she crosses something off the list.
Then she meets Kyle. He mumbles—when he talks at all—and listens to music to drown out his thoughts. He’s loaded down with fears, too. So Hailey talks him into making his own list.
Together, they stumble into an odd friendship, helping each other tackle one after another of their biggest fears. But fate and timing can change everything. And sometimes facing your worst fear makes you realize you had nothing to lose after all.