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"It's freaking hot."

I glanced over at Rachel, who was now wiping the sweat from her brow. The beads of salty perspiration were dripping off my own face and mingling with the dusty blend of dirt, soil, and plant roots. We were tending the community garden along with a few other students from our church in a widespread effort to keep volunteerism alive this summer. I had a feeling I wasn't the only one regretting my decision.

"I thought about asking God to turn up the AC today," I told her while wrestling with a particularly tough weed, "but I figured He would have blown in a cold front if He wanted to."

"Uh huh," she mutttered. "I want ice cream after this. If I don't get the ice cream, I'll just have a heat stroke and maybe die."

My eyes rolled at her dramaticism. "Well, I've never turned down an opportunity for ice cream."

"Amen to that, sister."

A shadow fell across our patch of garden, so we both looked up to acknowledge the figure. Mateo flashed me a grin, dark eyes bouncing between us. His shoulder-length dark hair was wet, but not from sweat. It looked like he had just taken a shower. Admittedly, I was slightly jealous. A cold shower would have done wonders for me at this point.

"Whatcha doing here?" Rachel inquired.

"I got the email about this," he answered with a shrug.

"Well, you're a little late."

Rolling his eyes, Mateo crossed his arms over his chest. "I had to help a friend get some things together for a party tonight. I just got done over there, so I figured I would come see you." He looked at me as he said the last bit.

He must not have remembered what went down the last time he tried to get to me. I didn't know how he could act so innocent after basically threatening to blackmail me with dirt he didn't have.

"We're a little busy, if you couldn't tell," Rachel remarked coldly, not attempting to hide her irritation whatsoever. She didn't know about how he showed up at my house a few days ago, so I wondered why she was being so short-tempered with him.

"Yeah, well, I need to talk to Hazel about something."

"Later," she insisted.

Meanwhile, I watched them both in mute curiosity.

"Hazel," he muttered in frustration, "just give me two minutes of your precious time."

"Just le—"

"It's okay," I cut Rachel off. "I'll talk to him."

Boston's reminder of how easily I tended to forgive Mateo came to mind. I brushed it off. This wasn't about forgiving him. This was about seeing how crazy he was for thinking I would be okay with whatever after he tried to use my relationship—however platonic it be—to force me into time with him.

Rachel blasted me with an incredulous look as I rose to my full height and shed the garden gloves. A tentative smile had taken residence with Mateo again. I wondered how long that would last.

"Okay," I said once we were standing on the sidewalk outside the garden. "You finally have me alone. Tell me what you need to say."

"You don't have to be so irritable about it," he remarked.

"Mateo, please. I don't have time for this."

His sigh assailed the air around us with the sharp aroma of his spearmint gum. After balancing uncomfortably between his feet, he finally asked, "There's a party tonight, and I was just wondering if you'd like to come."

"I'm good, but thanks." I folded my arms over my chest, wondering why he thought I would be interested. He knew I didn't go to parties.

"I just think it would be good for you to get out. You never have fun, Hazel, and I think it would be a good experience for you. Before college and everything."

"You don't even party, Mateo," I reminded him. "It feels like you have an ulterior motive that you aren't sharing."

"Well...I want to spend time with you, okay? You refuse to see me or let me see you, so I was hoping you would be more considerate since there will be other people. We won't be alone."

"It's not about that." I shook my head. It was partly about that. "Mateo, I just don't want to go."

His lips pursed while he undoubtedly attempted to plan another way to wall me in. I stopped him before he could.

"When I finally get over how mad I am at you, maybe we can go out for coffee."

"Really?" he piped up with half of a hopeful smile.

"Maybe. That was not a promise."

He scowled and I couldn't mask my grin.

"Bye, Mateo. Try not to pester any other girls, if you can help it."

"I'll think about it."

As I walked back into the garden, I waved at him over my shoulder. I wasn't sure why I continued to give him hope like that. Some part of me just couldn't give him a direct 'no', couldn't knowingly hurt him. Even if he had hurt me.

Rachel interrogated me on our conversation and was relieved to hear that I hadn't agreed to go to the party.

"He was probably going to roofie you," she told me in complete seriousness.

"I doubt that." I rolled my eyes. "There's something wrong with him, but I don't think he's stooped to that level."

"You hope he hasn't stooped to that level."

"Mhmm."

"So, anyway, I was going to say that we should go on a hike tomorrow. Before that brute showed up."

I chuckled. "A hike? I think this heat would make me keel over."

"No, it's supposed to rain tonight, so it should be cooler tomorrow. I think I read that the high will be in the mid-seventies tomorrow."

We hadn't had weather like that in a long time. It would feel like heaven.

"You love hiking," she said, leaning against my shoulder with hers. "We can pack a picnic and take it up there. It'll be great! Maybe we can get some good photos too, if it's not too cloudy."

"Ah, I see. This is for your portfolio, isn't it?"

She gasped. "You remember that?"

"Hardly."

In January, Rachel had decided to take a photography class outside of school. She enjoyed the subject but not the teacher, so she dropped the class. I remembered she mentioned something about trying to build her portfolio on her own. That was months ago now, but it stuck with me. Probably because I found it fascinating. There were few things that Rachel had passion for.

"You got me," she confessed. "I haven't been taking enough photos for the portfolio. But it'll still be fun! I'll just take the pictures discreetly."

"I don't mind, really. A hike would be fun."

"Yay! Someone told me about a trail off that old highway that has some great scenic places at the top."

"Alright." I shrugged. "Am I picking you up or are we meeting there?"

"I'll pick you up." Squealing, she exclaimed, "This is going to be so much fun!"

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