Those bitches were gonna die.
That was a horrible thing to say about my so-called ‘friends’—and I used the word friends loosely, because true friends wouldn’t ditch you the day of your scheduled road trip because they’d rather be sunbathing in the Hamptons.
The fucking Hamptons.
I mean, how clichéd could you get.
This was why I hated rich people.
It also sucked that I was one of those rich people.
Well, I wasn’t, but my dad was.
So by extension so was I.
When you grew up with a rock star for a dad, cameras and eyes followed you everywhere. It was exhausting.
I couldn’t just be Willow.
I was Willow Wade.
The daughter of the famous drummer Maddox Wade.
People expected greatness from me.
I just wanted to graduate college without slitting my wrists.
I fiddled with the radio, changing it to a country station—my dad would most definitely not approve—and let my blonde hair whip around my shoulders courtesy of the open windows.
The drive from NYU to my childhood home in Virginia was only about five hours, but it felt ten times longer thanks to the crazy traffic trying to get out of the city.
I might’ve yelled at a lot of people.
And waved my middle finger out the window.
My parents would be so proud.
My failed road trip might’ve been the reason I was headed home and not out west, but I was excited to be back where I grew up.
My freshman year of college had been trying, to say the least.
For most people college was their chance to spread their wings.
I found it oppressive.
That was probably due to the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Did I want to act? Sing? Dance? Join a traveling circus?
I had no effing idea.
I thought by going to NYU it would force me to finally decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
If anything it only made me question everything that much more.
When the sprawling Victorian home came into a view I couldn’t stop the smile that split my face if I wanted to.
For the first time since I left last August I felt like I could breathe.
I was home.
I parked my car in the driveway and hopped out—pulling in a healthy lungful of clean mountain air.
So much better than the exhaust fume filled air that littered New York City.
I grabbed my patchwork backpack from the passenger seat and slung it over my shoulder.
Slipping my sunglasses off my face and into my hair I headed for the front door.
I pulled the key from my pocket, rubbing my thumb against the worn hedgehog key cap.
I entered the home and nearly cried at the rush of familiarity.
I was still majorly bummed that my plans for a road trip hadn’t worked out, and I’d probably mope about it for a week in a bout of teenage angst, but being home wasn’t all that bad.
I’d missed my house.
And even the hedgehogs.
My dad had a thing for hedgehogs, so by extension I guess I did too. They were pretty cute.
The house was eerily quiet as I stepped inside and I looked around for my brother Mascen and my sister Lylah.
Neither was anywhere to be seen.
I moved further into the house, skimming my fingers over the familiar pale yellow walls on my way to the kitchen.
No one appeared to be home and I needed food.
Humming softly under my breath I rounded the corner into the spacious kitchen and immediately regretted my destination.
“MY EYES!” I screamed, slapping a hand over my eyes. “My poor innocent eyes!” I gagged for added affect.
Catching my mom and dad making out in the kitchen like a couple of teenagers had not been on my to-do list for the day.
Neither had seeing my mom’s bra or my dad’s hand skimming up her skirt.
I turned around, walking away as fast as my feet would carry me. “I’m going to go throw up now!”
I heard them shuffling in the kitchen, no doubt righting their clothes.
Thank God there had been no exposed body parts.
I might’ve been traumatized for life.
“Willow!” I heard my mom call my name, but I was already headed for the stairs. “We didn’t know you were coming home.”
“Yeah, I kinda sorta forgot to call on my way out of hell.” I muttered under my breath, hurrying up the steps.
“Willow.” She called again and this time her voice was close.
I paused on the stairs and turned to find her standing at the bottom of the staircase with her hands on her hips.
“Are you okay, honey?” A wrinkle marred her brow.
With her wild and untamable blonde hair, kind blue eyes, and boho chic style, my mom was still a knockout at forty years old.
She narrowed her eyes on me. “Spill it, I know you’re lying.”
Groaning, I stomped up the rest of the stairs. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
I headed down the hall and up the attic stairs to my bedroom.
I knew my mom was following, but I acted like I didn’t notice.
Kicking off my black and white chucks I belly flopped onto my gray and yellow paisley comfortable. Wrapping my arms around the pillow I inhaled the familiar scent of the lavender fabric softener my mom always used.
The bed dipped near my feet.
“What happened, sweetie?” She asked.
I rolled over onto my back and frowned. “Everything.”
“Talking about it will probably make you feel better.”
“And so will this tea.”
I smiled at the sound of my dad’s voice as he appeared in the doorway of my room.
I might’ve been nineteen years old now, but I would always be my daddy’s princess.
He handed me one of the cups of tea and gave the other to my mom.
Pulling out the fluffy white swivel desk chair he took a seat and clasped his hands together.
“We weren’t expecting you home.”
I snorted. “I kinda figured that out. I’m sorry. I should’ve called. Where are Mascen and Lylah?” I looked around like they might suddenly jump out from behind my bed.
He chuckled. “They’re still in school. The high school hasn’t let out for the summer yet.”
“Oh, right.” I mumbled, having forgotten that my college courses ended a few weeks before their schedule ended.
“What happened with your road trip?” My mom asked.
“My friends are a bunch of cunt waffles.”
“Willow!” She admonished. “That’s not nice.”
“They’re not nice,” I reasoned. Waving my arms dramatically, I began to explain my tragic tale. “I showed up at Lauren’s apartment, where I was supposed to pick her and Greta up—and someone please explain to me who the hell would name their child Greta. I mean, honestly.”
“Willow,” my mom warned.
She said my name a lot.
She even had different ways of saying it.
So I’d know when I was in trouble, or she was irritated.
She was definitely irritated at the moment.
Me interrupting her and my dad about to go at it like a couple of rabbits probably added to that—not just my tendency to ramble endlessly.
“Sorry,” I said, even though I wasn’t really sorry. “Anyway, I get there, and I’m knocking on the door, and I’m all like, ‘Let’s gooooo my kemo-sabes!’ and then Lauren opens the door dressed in a robe. A robe. And informs me that they’ve changed their minds and roughing it isn’t appealing. Instead, they’re going to the Hamptons because Greta’s parent’s have a place there beside Ryan Goosling or whatever his name is.” I paused, pulling in a lungful of air. “I just don’t understand who in their right mind would pass up a road trip in order to sun bathe and spy on a guy with a name that sounds like goose.”
My parents stared at me and then their eyes slid to each other.
They both looked like they were fighting laughter at my pain.
I lifted the cup of tea to my lips and winced at the taste before setting the mug on the bedside table.
My dad, he tried, but he could not make tea to save himself.
“Princess, not everyone’s like you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I bristled.
He chuckled. “Simmer down, Tiger. All I’m saying is, you’re adventurous. A sedentary life isn’t for you. Most people aren’t like that. They’re afraid to put themselves out there into the unknown, but you’re not.”
“Are you saying I should join the traveling circus? Because that idea is looking more appealing every day.”
“Nah,” he laughed, tapping his finger against my toe, “I’d miss you too much. Sending you off to college was bad enough.”
I frowned at the mention of college.
“What is it?” My mom asked softly, picking up on the sudden shift in me. She was perceptive like that.
I shrugged, picking up one of the many throw pillows on my bed and hugging it to my chest.
“Nothing,” I lied. “I’m just tired and cranky.”
She looked at me doubtfully. “Are you sure that’s it?”
I knew my mom and dad wouldn’t care if I threw my hands up and said college wasn’t for me. But that was the thing. I didn’t know that. I was completely and utterly clueless. Maybe college was for me and I was just at the wrong one.
Or maybe it wasn’t.
I didn’t know.
And I was afraid I never would.
I was terrified of graduating from college with a degree in something I didn’t even like and being stuck.
Stuck and Willow Wade did not go well together.
But it was hard to explain to anyone, especially my parents, what I wanted when I didn’t even know.
Maybe, this summer, I’d get my shit together and figure my life out.
Not likely, but one could hope.
My parents looked at me with pity in their eyes.
They knew I was full of shit but they were too nice to call me on it—for now at least.
Jumping up from my bed I slipped my feet back into my shoes.
“I’m going to head out for a while. I’ll be back for dinner.”
“Don’t you want to finish your tea?” My dad asked.
I tried not to gag. “Nope, I’m good. Y’all just…uh…get back to whatever it was you were about to do before I got here.”
I only made it to the door before I stopped, horrified. Swiftly turning around, I pointed a finger at them. “But don’t do that on my bed, because that’s just gross and weird on so many levels. Go to your own room.”
My dad bellowed out a laugh but quickly sobered. “You don’t need to leave because of us.”
“I know,” I replied, “I just need to get out.”
Before either of them could stop me I bound down the stairs and out the door.
I was slightly out of breath by the time I reached my car.
I should probably work out more.
Nah, who was I kidding? That was never going to happen…unless balancing a Cheeto on the top of your lip counted as exercise because then I was totally ahead of the game.
I slid back into the car, my sore bum protesting at this fact, and headed into downtown.
I wasn’t sure where I was going, and I ended up stopping at the local coffee shop/restaurant, Griffin’s, for some food.
Armed with a coffee and muffin, I suddenly seemed to know where I needed to go.
Well, more like who I needed to see.
Cramming half the muffin in my mouth and getting crumbs all over me—so ladylike, I know—I hurried from Griffin’s out into the warm sunshine.
Behind the wheel of my car once more, I headed to my new destination.
When the building came into sight my lips lifted into one of the biggest grins I’d worn in a long time and I hadn’t even seen him yet.
I parked my car at the side of the building and walked around to the open garage door.
Wentworth Wheels was emblazoned on the front of the building, and inside several mechanics bustled around.
I stepped inside, inhaling the familiar scent of oil and rubber. Most people hated that smell, but I loved it. It reminded me of so many memories.
I craned my neck around, looking for familiar floppy brown hair but he wasn’t to be seen.
And then, there he was.
He came out from the back office, wiping down a piece of metal with a red rag.
When he looked up he saw me and a grin that matched my own lit his face.
Barreling forward I ran into his arms.
He caught me immediately and spun me around.
“Dean,” I breathed against his neck, hugging him tight.
I’d missed him so much.
Dean Wentworth was my best friend.
We’d grown up together—his dad was the cousin of the guitar player in my dad’s band—and he was one of the few people I could turn to with anything. His parents might not have been famous, but they had a lot of money, so he could relate to many of the same things I went through. I was also close with his younger sister, Grace, but my connection to Dean was stronger.
Sometimes there were people that just got each other, and that’s how it was with us.
Sitting me down he placed the piece of metal on a nearby worktable and tucked the rag in the back pocket of his jeans before crossing his arms over his chest.
“Willow Wade in the flesh.” He looked me up and down. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“It’s been a while,” I conceded.
I hadn’t seen Dean since New Year’s when I’d attended his family’s annual party. It was kind of a big deal and not to be missed.
I hadn’t talked to him much there, because his girlfriend had been with him.
She was an insufferable bitch that I wanted to gag and toss over a bridge into a lake.
He could do so much better.
“How’s Brooklyn?” I sneered her name.
I’d tried to be nice to her when they first started dating last summer, but she made her distaste of me obvious—I was too loud, too crazy, and far too opinionated for her.
“Wouldn’t know. We broke up in February.”
I clucked my tongue. “You got her the wrong chocolate for Valentine’s day, didn’t you?”
He laughed fully at that. “Probably. We just weren’t a good match. She kept trying to hide my Pokémon cards and that wasn’t cool.”
By now the other mechanics were staring at us with interest. I recognized a few of them and waved.
“Come on,” Dean waved his hand forward, “let’s head up to the apartment to talk.”
“You’re not going to get in trouble are you?”
“I know the owner.” He winked, referring to his dad.
My Chucks squeaked against the concrete floor as I followed Dean through the garage, outside, and around the side of the building to the set of stairs that led to the apartment above the shop. Dean was nearly two years older than me, and as soon as he graduated high school he’d moved in here and gotten his certificate to be a mechanic. He’d known from the time he was three and could hold a wrench that he wanted to be a mechanic like his dad. If only I was that lucky.
Dean swung the door open and waved me inside.
It looked much the way I remembered—muted gray walls, black leather furniture, and old timey western and sci-fi movie posters on the wall.
“Thirsty?” Dean asked, already moving into the small kitchen.
I slid onto one of the red leather barstools and nodded.
He opened the fridge and seemed to be searching for something. Finally, he pulled out a glass bottle of orange crush soda.
“Ah!” I squealed, reaching out with grabby hands. “I can’t believe you still get these!”
“’Course,” he shrugged, unscrewing the cap on another and leaning across the counter towards me, “they’re your favorite.”
“I haven’t had one of these in forever.” I gulped greedily at it.
“They don’t have Orange Crush soda in New York City?” He questioned with a raised brow.
“I’m sure they do,” I relented, rubbing the condensation off the glass with my thumb, “but not in a glass bottle. Plus, I wouldn’t be able to have it with you. This is our thing.”
He grinned at that. “I’ve missed you, Will.”
“Bleh,” I gagged, “I wish that nickname would die already. I have a vagina, therefore I’m not a Will.”
He chuckled and leaned his head back, swallowing a large gulp of the soda. “I’ve missed you, Willow.” He amended.
“I’ve got somethin’ else for you.” He began shuffling through a kitchen drawer. When he found whatever it was he was looking for, he exclaimed, “Aha!”
He held the blue raspberry lollipop out for me with a crooked smile. “Been saving all of these for you.”
“My momma always told me not to take candy from a stranger,” I quipped, taking the lollipop anyway—there was no way I was passing up blue raspberry. It was my favorite.
“Guess it’s a good thing I’m not a stranger.” He winked.
I unwrapped the lollipop and stuck it in my mouth. “Mmm,” I hummed, “that’s good.”
He laughed and grabbed one for himself. Sour apple.
We grew quiet for a moment, and then he broke the silence. “This feels good. It seems like you never left.”
I sighed, looking down at the worn ends of my shoes. “I wish I’d never left,” I muttered.
“Is it really that bad?” He asked. “College, I mean.”
I pulled the lollipop from my mouth. “I don’t know whether it’s college or me.”
“Ah, I see.” He nodded.
“You know me,” I continued, “I hate being confined. I thought once I graduated high school I’d be free to wander the world and do what I wanted, but then I felt I needed to go to school, and maybe it is what I need but it’s not what I want.”
“So…maybe you take next year off,” he suggested.
“But I don’t know if that’s what I want.”
“What’s something you do want?” The white end of the lollipop stuck out between his lips.
“Well,” I slid the barstool back and kicked my feet up on the counter, “I wanted to go on a road trip and my so-called friends bailed. Assholes.” I muttered the last part under my breath.
He chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Because you’re such a delight to hang out with twenty-four-seven.”
I stuck my now blue tongue out at him.
Sobering, he walked around and slid onto the barstool beside me. “Why don’t we go on a road trip?”
My eyes widened in surprise. “Me and you?”
“Sure, why not?” He shrugged, crunching down on his lollipop and chewing the candy. “I mean, we’re friends, I just finished restoring my Mustang, and getting out of here for a little while wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.”
“Would your dad let you take off work for that long? My plan was to head south and then west all the way to California to visit Liam,” I said, referring to my cousin who was only a few months older than me and like a brother, “and then come back up the northern route.”
“My dad won’t care.” Dean shrugged, tossing the lollipop stick in the direction of the trashcan. It hit the edge and bounced off. Dean never had much aim. It was a good thing he stuck to fixing cars and playing music.
Excitement flooded my body, nearly bubbling over.
“Are you sure?” I asked him one last time.
“We’re really going to do this?”
“Thank you!” I squealed, nearly falling to the floor in my haste to hug him.
“Whoa.” He grunted in surprise when my body collided into his. He wrapped his arms around me, hugging me back.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I said a thousand more times before smacking a kiss against his stubbled cheek. “This is going to be epic.”
Before he could respond, I was out the door and down the steps.
I had a road trip to pack for.