Home > Lovers Like Us (Like Us #2)

Lovers Like Us (Like Us #2)
Author: Krista Ritchie

PROLOGUE

 

 

3 ½ Years Ago

 

 

MAXIMOFF HALE

 


Ocean splashes against a docked yacht. I stand on the crowded deck and tune out the rowdy end-of-summer bash behind me. Everyone in swimsuits, taller people knock into low-hanging pineapple streamers on their way to the bar.

Torches light up the night.

I tighten my grip on the yacht’s railing. And I just stare out at the dark horizon. My eyes narrowed and unblinking.

I made a colossal mistake only twenty minutes ago. It plays on repeat in my brain. Like a fucked-up radio station that I can’t shut off.

I descended the boat’s stairs to the cabins. I meant to use the bathroom, but I solidified at a familiar voice. Coming from a cracked door to the master cabin.

“I have to tell you something while Moffy is gone,” Jason Motlic said, a senior on the high school swim team. Four of us graduated recently, and college is beginning in a week. So I invited them to my family’s party. Hanging out one last time.

I’d even driven them here, volunteered to be their sober driver because I don’t drink. And they wanted to get hammered.

So I stood there, hand frozen on the bathroom door. Not moving. Not entering. Just listening to the voices in the nearby cabin and waiting for an inevitable, metaphorical gunshot to pierce my chest.

“I was over at Moffy’s house yesterday—”

“Bullshit,” Ray said, also a swim team graduate. “Moffy never brings anyone to his house.”

But I did. One time. Yesterday.

I let Jason inside my family’s house, and he waited in the living room while I searched the kitchen for my car keys. Just for ten goddamn minutes.

“We’re friends,” Jason countered and then lowered his voice. “His mom was there. I’m telling you, she had fuck me eyes. So I got a little closer.”

I strained my ears.

“Then she went at me, horny as fuck. She gave me a blow job right by the microwave.” Fuck you, Jason.

Fuck you.

I couldn’t move. Barely breathed.

“No way.”

“I’m not lying.” They all laughed together, called Jason “the man” and their hands slapped together in a congratulatory shake.

My skin crawled, blood boiled—and just so we’re clear, I believe zero percent of his story. Sex addict and all, my mom is just like any other normal mom.

She’d never do that.

Ignore them. Use the bathroom. Forget them. I stayed still, my hand fisting the bathroom doorknob.

“You think his mom will blow me too?” Ray asked.

“I bet she’d do more than that—”

I snapped and bolted into the master cabin.

All three of the swim team guys were there. Frozen and wide-eyed at the sight of me and my red-hot rage.

I don’t want to hate people. I don’t want to be calloused and bitter and angry. But these moments make it so goddamn hard.

“Moffy?” Jason said. “I was just joking.”

Some fucking joke. I expected that shit from trolls and assholes. Not people I mistakenly considered “friends”—and I wished for a time machine.

Take me back to yesterday. Don’t invite him inside my house.

Take me back to twenty minutes ago. Don’t overhear him in the yacht’s cabins.

Then maybe I could keep up the fantastical charade of believing that I can have real, honest to God friends from school. I barely even trust people to begin with, and what little I gave Jason, he shit on.

“You’re just joking?” I said, my voice hollowed out. “Are you fucking serious?”

Jason glanced at Ray. Then back to me, their smirks etching. Like I was the butt of a joke. Like I was the famous nineteen-year-old that should take the beating.

Like all those times we’d been on two-hour bus rides to swim meets and talked and laughed had been a damn lie.

I should’ve left the cabin. Right there. I should’ve left.

Instead, I threw the first punch. Ray and Clark jumped me from behind. Three on one, and I would’ve fought them until I couldn’t breathe. Until they choked the life out of me.

Maybe they saw that I wouldn’t end it, and after a while, they just left the boat cabin. One-by-one. I picked myself off the ground, steady as a statue. With a stinging lip, aching jaw and festering rage.

And now here I am. On the deck, gripping the railing. Knuckles reddened.

Not able to stop thinking or remembering.

I breathe, my ribs throbbing, muscles burning. I blink and blink to push past the moment.

But part of me wants to rattle this yacht railing. Then climb over and jump into the restless ocean below. Just to scream beneath salt water.

But I don’t.

I stay stoic.

I turned nineteen in July. I’m the oldest guy to too many cousins that look up to me, to siblings that need me. Like I’m Captain America. Their superhero.

Dear World, how many times have you seen Captain America jump into an ocean and throw a pity party of one? I’m asking for a friend. Sincerely, just a human.

So I can’t have a public breakdown. I can’t cry bitterly and angrily.

I can’t scream.

Just move on.

I swallow my feelings.

“Moffy.”

I turn as Dr. Edward Keene sidles next to me, a lime mojito in hand. He’s in his early fifties, ash-brown hair tied in a small pony, strong jaw and nose. I always thought he resembled Viggo Mortensen, circa Lord of the Rings.

I’m not surprised my family’s concierge doctor is at the summer bash. The Hales, Meadows, and Cobalts invited peers, employees, security team, their friends-of-friends—pretty much anyone we’d shaken hands with and said hello to.

I’m more surprised that he’s nearing me. And lingering. Dr. Keene sips his mojito and eyes my raw knuckles, abs and chest.

I release my tight grip off the railing. “Hey.”

“If you were hurt fighting, I should take a look,” he says, curt and to the point. “I won’t tell your parents.”

Doctor-patient confidentiality. Plus, I’m a legal adult. All of that, I understand. Still, I don’t want help. Not like that.

I glance at a row of baby blue lounge chairs along the yacht deck. About twenty feet away. Adults, teenagers, and kids congregate around them and eat tiny plates of meats and cheeses.

The infamous Loren Hale sits on the edge of a lounge chair. Hand on the back of his neck. Jaw sharpened like ice. Sometimes he tries not to be a helicopter dad, but his amber gaze flits to me. Overly concerned.

Uncle Ryke and Uncle Connor take a seat on either side of him.

I’m not going to be the one who burdens my dad or my mom. Add in the media and three more kids under fourteen, they have enough shit to deal with.

I stand straighter. Taller. Shoulders squared.

I face Dr. Keene. “I’m okay. I think I cracked a rib or two, but I don’t want pain meds. I can just take Advil.”

Dr. Keene nods, not pushing further. “Are you excited for Harvard?” He sips his mojito again.

I think about tonight. I think about Jason and how much trust I gave and lost. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to trust anyone on campus. Except for my cousin. That has to be enough.

I nod to myself.

“Really excited,” I say honestly. “Charlie and I are rooming together, so it’ll be cool.” I wish Janie chose Harvard too, but she dreamed of attending the same alma mater as her mom. Princeton.

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