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On paper, I’m a firefighter.
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Chapter One: Molly
“Hey, Mol – you get the answer for number four yet?”
I looked up and blinked at my best friend, Rebecca. We were sitting at the small table in our kitchen, roasting in the late-afternoon sunlight as we poured over homework.
Rebecca made a face. “No,” she said. “Ugh. This sucks, I’m so tired!”
“I know,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I am, too.”
“Remind me why we thought this was such a good idea again?”
I burst out laughing. “Because it is,” I said, shaking my head. “Besides, are you telling me that you’d rather be out working some minimum wage job?”
“Hey,” Rebecca shot back. “I have a degree.”
“Yeah, so do I,” I said. “And before I sent in my grad school applications, the only place willing to hire me was Starbucks!”
Rebecca snickered. “I know,” she said. “It’s awful.”
“But just a few years, and then we’ll be librarians,” I said encouragingly, pushing my workbook back towards my best friend. “And that’s gonna be awesome.”
Rebecca nodded. She pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose. “Yeah,” she said. She sighed. “God, did I tell you? My dad is still trying to get me a job at his stupid firm, even though I don’t want it.”
I frowned. “That sucks.”
Rebecca’s parents hadn’t exactly been supportive of her decision – and mine – to enroll in a master’s program for library science. Since she’d started grad school, there had been no fewer than ten attempts to get her to drop out and “get a real job,” according to her asshole of a father.
“Yeah,” Rebecca said. She sighed. “It just hurts, you know? They’ve always accepted Alex, no matter what he did. He’s the golden child.”
I rolled my eyes. “Tell me about it,” I said, trying hard not to blush at the mention of Alex’s name. Rebecca’s older brother Alex was twenty-eight, gorgeous, and the biggest asshole I’d ever met. At six years my senior, I’d been in awe of Alex ever since Rebecca and I had met in grade school. I’d always nursed a secret crush on him…and he’d always teased me. No, teased isn’t the right word. Teasing implies some kind of friendliness, some hint of warmth.
No. What Alex had done – all of the things he’d done, over the years – had been mocking me, not teasing me.
It wasn’t even close.
“Alex is a special kind of jerk,” I said to Rebecca, tossing my brown curls over one shoulder.
“God, I know,” Rebecca complained. She shook her head. “My parents just like, forgive him for everything! He can’t be stopped,” she added. “It drives me crazy.”
Now that Alex was in my head, I hated to admit it, but I was starting to feel all warm and fluttery.
“I remember the first time I met him,” I said, an unfortunate dreamy quality sneaking into my voice. “He was a jerk, even back then.”
Rebecca frowned. “What happened?”
I flushed. “Oh, it was dumb,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”
Rebecca nodded. “I should really be getting back to this anyway,” she said, pointing down at her work. “It’s due tomorrow.”
As Rebecca hunched over her work, I closed my eyes and thought back to the very first time I’d ever met Alex Travers.
“Hey, Molly! Over here!”
I glanced around in a panic, looking for my best friend Rebecca. We’d just started sixth grade, and it was the first year we’d be in separate classrooms. I’d been having anxiety about it all summer. My mother had basically told me to stop whining and get over it, that I’d make new friends, that maybe even it would be a good idea to put some space between Rebecca and me.
But that didn’t make me feel any better. I was a shy, nervous wallflower, just like Rebecca. We’d bonded in fourth grade, when a teacher had put us together on a project. Ever since then, we’d been close friends. I didn’t want to face the treacherous world of middle school without her.
“Hey!” I yelled. “How was your first day?”
Rebecca made a face as I pushed my way through the crowd.
“Not good,” she said when I got closer.
I sighed. “Me, neither,” I said. “I can’t believe this, it sucks so much. I wish my mom would call the school and have them put me in your class.”
“I know,” Rebecca said. She groaned. “My stupid brother is late – he’s supposed to be picking me up and taking me home. You want a ride?”
“Your brother?” My heart skipped a beat in my chest. Alex, Rebecca’s brother, was seventeen and a senior in high school. I’d never met him before, but I had seen pictures hanging in the hallway of Rebecca’s house. Alex was the hottest guy I’d ever seen. He looked just like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. Just seeing his pictures was enough to make me feel all hot and squirmy.