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Mateo called me from my driveway to let me know he was here. Coming to the door unannounced always made him nervous. I figured he was just nervous one of my parents would answer.

After telling him to wait in his car, I crawled out of my bed and down the stairs. My parents were watching a movie in the living room. I could sneak out without them knowing, but I didn't want to risk their wrath anymore. So I poked my head into the living room.

"I'm going for a quick walk," I told them. "I'll just be gone for a minute."

"You're going for a walk?" my mom demanded while my dad paused the television. "Right now? It's nine o'clock, Hazel."

"I know. I'll make it quick."

"But...why?" my dad questioned.

Sighing, I went with the most teenager-likely response I could think of. "I need to clear my head."

"Honey, it's dark out. It's not safe."

"I'm going to be leaving for college in a few months! I have to be able to handle myself. This isn't a big deal," I insisted. "It's just a walk. I'll have my phone on me. If I see something sketchy, I'll call you and run back."

Neither of them were happy about this, but I decided to assert my independence anyway.

"I love you," I added for good measure. Then I walked to the front door.

As expected, Mateo's car was parked out front. I strolled over to his window, which he promptly rolled down.

"What're you doing?" he asked. "Aren't we going for a ride?"

"No. My parents are already suspicious of me. Drive after me so they don't see your car."

He did as told, reversing out of the drive, and following me down the street at a very slow pace. A balmy breeze blew over my skin. We didn't talk for a minute or so, but Mateo eventually went first.

"You don't really want to break up with me," he said. "If you did, you wouldn't be out here with me."

Not this again. I sighed. "Mateo, we are already over. I'm out here to make sure you accept that and don't do anything rash."

"Rash? Like what?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure how it feels to be in your position."

"Right. Well...do your parents know yet?"

Shaking my head, I replied, "No."

"Why haven't you told them?"

"I haven't had the chance. Or maybe I don't know what to say."

"Because it's not meant to be like this." Mateo suddenly hit his brakes and threw his car into park.

I stared at his vehicle, stunned, as he hopped out and came to me. His eyes were stormy with some emotion I didn't understand. The downward curve of his lips gave me a bad feeling.

"I love you, Hazel," he told me. "I really—"

"No, Mateo, you don't." I stepped back. "You don't know what love is, and neither do I. Infatuation is all this is."

"So you don't love me at all? Not even platonically?"

"Of course I love you as a friend, but we took our friendship too far. I'm not ready for romance or any of this."

He ground his teeth together. "You're almost eighteen years old, but you think you still aren't ready for a relationship?"

"Eighteen is still young."

"Hazel, I think it has nothing to do with that. I think you're just scared of how it might actually feel to love someone."

"Goodnight, Mateo," I said, trying not to snap. "Do not come over to my house again."

Although he called out to me, I was already gone. My legs carried me home quickly, at a sprint. I was winded by the time I reached my front porch. When I looked behind me, Mateo's car sped off down the street.

He could make me so angry. Why was he trying to pressure me into getting back together with him? If he actually loved me, he would understand—or at least try to understand—why I didn't want to be with him right now. He wouldn't try to force his way into my life again. But who was I kidding? Mateo didn't love me. He loved the concept of love.

I rested my damp forehead against the front door. Relationships were so complicated. Maybe I should just be an old maid for the rest of my life. Maybe the world would be better off if I never tried to date again. It wasn't like I knew how to date anyway. Clearly, I sucked at it.

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