Because this book is now published, content stops after chapter twenty. Please proceed with this information in mind.  

N i n e

            June Collins. The woman could make nuns swear and cause full grown men to cry. She was a grade A bitch with the icy attitude to match.

            Now, don't get me wrong. She wasn't always like this. In fact, she used to be one of those carefree mums who wore her hair in a lazy ponytail on the weekends and walked around barefoot in summer. She used to be the kind of parent that would hide behind doors, water gun in her hands, waiting for her children to walk around the corner.

            June Collins was fun.

            Then Ryder's dad cheated on her and she changed. A lot. After the divorce, Mr. Collins left the house and went to live with his girlfriend that looked young enough to still be at school. Mrs. Collins immediately dropped Ryder and his brother off at her mother's and disappeared for a few months.

            And when she came back, she was a whole different person. I remember in grade seven, before Ryder and I had broken up, I called her 'Mrs. Collins' and she looked like she was going to bite my face off. It wasn't my fault though. I mean, I was aware of the divorce and everything, but I didn't know what her maiden name was. I used to call her June. But when she came back looking like she'd just come back from boot camp, my confidence to call her by her first named dulled.

            Ryder pulled out his keys and unlocked the front door. I was so scared; I tiptoed into the house and craned my neck like an ostrich trying to see if she was around. Ryder turned and saw me creeping around his house like a weirdo, so he rolled his eyes at me and kicked the front door closed.

            And that was all the noise he needed to make to have Mrs. Collins head towards the front door. The instant she started advancing towards the door, I knew she was on the move. The sound of her heels clicking against the wooden floor echoed through the empty space of the house and a few seconds later, she appeared. Instantly, my back straightened, as if good posture would make me invisible to the woman.

            "Ryder, darling," she greeted, walking towards her son.

            She paused for a moment, realising he wasn't alone. Her blue eyes flickered to me and quickly scanned my appearance. I suddenly felt extremely exposed and savage, wearing a tube as a shirt. Mrs. Collins adjusted her work blazer and smoothed down her pencil skirt.

            "Nora," she said, her tone as cold as ice. "I didn't expect to see you here. Why haven't you been home?"

            "We've been doing a school project," I answered for him,

            "Excuse me, Nora, but I don't remember addressing you," she snapped, tone clipped.

            I shrunk into the background.

            "We're doing a school project," Ryder repeated, stepping forward to kiss his mother's cheek.

            She arched her lips tightly, her painted lips thinning to a barely-there smile as she kept her eyes on me. When Ryder stepped back, she said nothing. She just continued to stare, her hand reaching up to her ear lobe to fiddle with her pearl earring. It was something she did unconsciously when she was thinking.

            "When will you come home?" she questioned, after a moment of silence.

            "Tonight, if you want," Ryder replied.

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