Thank you to my readers who’ve been with me since the start and watched this book grow. Thank you for making the writing process so enjoyable, and thank you for sticking with me for so long. Thanks to everyone at Black & White Publishing for believing in this book as much as I do. I’m forever grateful to Janne, for wishing to take over the world; Karyn, for all your comments and your expertise; and Laura, for always looking after me. Thanks to my family for their endless support and encouragement, especially my mum, Fenella, for always taking me to the library when I was younger so that I could fall in love with books; my dad, Stuart, for always encouraging me to be a writer; and finally my grandad, George West, for believing in me from day one. Thank you Heather Allen and Shannon Kinnear for listening to my ideas and allowing me to ramble on about this book, without ever telling me to be quiet, despite however much my excitement most likely drove you both insane. Thank you Neil Drysdale for helping me get to where I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And finally, thank you to Danica Proe, my teacher back when I was eleven, for being the first person to tell me that I wrote like a real author, and for making me realise that an author was exactly what I wanted to be.
Three hundred and fifty-nine days.
That’s how long I’ve been waiting for this.
That’s how many days I’ve counted down.
It’s been three hundred and fifty-nine days since I last saw him.
Gucci paws at my leg as I lean against my suitcase, fizzing with nervous excitement as I stare out the living room window. It’s almost 6AM, and outside the sun has just risen. I watched it filter through the darkness twenty minutes ago, admiring how beautiful the avenue looked and the way the sunlight bounced from the cars lining the sidewalk. Dean should be pulling up any second.
I drop my eyes to the huge German Shepherd by my feet. Leaning down, I rub behind her ears until she turns and pads her way into the kitchen. All I can do is gaze out the window again, mentally running through a list of everything I packed, but it only stresses me out and I end up sliding off my suitcase and zipping it open instead. I rummage through the pile of shorts, the pairs of Converse, the collection of bracelets.
“Eden, trust me, you’ve got everything you need.”
My hands stop shifting through my clothes and I look up. Mom’s standing in the kitchen in her robe, staring over the counter at me with her arms folded across her chest. She has the same expression she’s been wearing for a week straight now. Half upset, half annoyed.
I sigh and shove everything tightly into the suitcase again as I close it back up and set it on its wheels. I get to my feet. “I’m just nervous.”
I don’t quite know how to describe the way I’m feeling. There are nerves, of course, because I have no idea what to expect. Three hundred and fifty-nine days is a long time for things to change. Everything could be different. So I am also terrified. I’m terrified that things won’t be different. I’m scared that the second I see him, everything will come rushing back. That’s the thing about distance: It either gives you time to move on from someone, or it makes you realize just how much you need them.
And right now, I have no idea if I simply miss my stepbrother or if I miss the person I was in love with. It’s hard to tell the difference. They’re the same person.
“Don’t be,” Mom says. “There’s nothing to be nervous about.” She walks over into the living room, Gucci bouncing behind her, and she squints out the window before sitting down on the arm of the couch. “When’s Dean coming?”
“Now,” I say quietly.
“Well, I hope you get stuck in traffic and that you miss your flight.”
I grit my teeth and turn to the side. Mom’s been against this whole idea since the moment I mentioned it to her. She doesn’t want to waste a single day, and apparently leaving for six weeks is exactly that: wasted time. It’s our last few months together before I move to Chicago in the fall. For her, this translates into the last time she’ll see me. Ever. Which is totally not true. Once finals wrap up, I’ll be home again next summer.
“Are you really that pessimistic?”
Mom finally cracks a smile. “Not pessimistic, just jealous and a little selfish.”
Right then I hear the sound of a car engine. I know it’s Dean before I even look, and the soft purr fades into silence as the car pulls up on the driveway. Jack, my mom’s boyfriend, has parked his truck further up, so I crane my neck to get a better view.
Dean’s pushing open the door of his car and stepping out, but his movements are slow and his face is blank, like he doesn’t want to be here. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Last night his replies were blunt and he spent the evening mostly looking at his phone, and when I left his house he didn’t walk me out to my car like he normally does. Just like Mom, he’s a little pissed off with me.
A lump grows in my throat and I try to swallow it down as I pull out the handle of my suitcase. I wheel it toward the front door but then pause to fix Mom with an anxious frown. It’s finally time to leave for the airport.
Dean doesn’t knock before he enters the house. He never does; he doesn’t have to. But the door swings open slower than usual before he steps into the house, looking tired. “Morning.”
“Morning, Dean,” Mom says. Her small smile becomes a much wider grin as she reaches out to gently squeeze his arm. “She’s ready to go.”
Dean’s dark eyes flash over to meet mine. Normally he smiles when he sees me, but this morning his expression is neutral. He does, however, raise his eyebrows at me, as though to ask, “Well, are you?”
“Hey,” I say, and I’m so nervous that it comes out sounding weak and pathetic. I glance down at my suitcase and then back up to Dean. “Thanks for doing this on your day off.”
“Don’t remind me,” he says, but he’s starting to smile and it puts me at ease. Stepping forward, he takes my suitcase from me. “I could be in bed right now, sleeping until noon.”
“You’re too good to me.” I move closer to him and wrap my arms around his body, burying my face into his shirt while he laughs and squeezes me back. I tilt my face up to look at him from beneath my eyelashes. “Seriously.”