The second she touches me, the bomb goes off. I rip my fingers out of her grip and lace them in Jersey's. I hold onto her tight--tighter, until the warmth pooling in my napkin spreads into her palm.

"Elias, stop! Your hand! Look at your hand," she says.

Her voice is a mix of terror and worry and confusion. Confusion I'm causing. I look at her without saying anything because I can't say anything. I wouldn't know where to start, but I know where things would end.

With Mindy.

With the rest of the story of why I left.

I could tell her.

I could open my mouth right now and tell her everything, and it would ruin everything.

So I force my lips shut, lean in, and press them against hers until I lose myself to our "right now." I don't need anything else but this. I can exist with her in the present without having to deal with the past.

I want San Francisco to dissolve on her lips. I want to crush it in the space between us. But right when I pull away, I still feel that city staring at me.

Standing over my shoulder.

Always watching, like it always has.

I separate myself from Alex, slowly, and watch a million questions bloom on her face, but I mumble a quick "be right back", and walk away from the table before she can ask them.

The restaurant blurs out of focus as I bolt for the men's bathroom. I nearly clip a waiter carrying out what has to be a six hundred dollar tray of sushi. He shoots his mouth off at me, but I'm way too rattled to stop and apologize.

My mind keeps playing and replaying the look on Jersey's face when I walked away. All the color in her cheeks faded as she watched me leave.

I made her watch me leave.


Even though I promised I wouldn't.

Right now, the tattoo that's etched into my chest feels like a lie.

Because even after all the things I said I wouldn't do and all the ways I swore that I would change, I'm still a runner.

And right now I'm running away from her.

From the truth.

From Mindy.

From everything.

I slam open the bathroom door , stumble over to the sink, and stare at myself in the mirror. My whole face is red, my eyes are bloodshot, and there's tears staining my cheeks that I'm too numb to feel.

I shut my eyes to block out my broken excuse for a reflection, but that's when the flickers start.

Mindy's hospital room.

My mom crying on the floor on the hallway.

The face of that little girl who wasn't mine.

I reach for the sink blindly and turn on the faucet with clumsy, shaking hands. I lower myself down until my head's level with the tap and splash cold water on my face, hoping the feeling will pull me out of the past as fast as I need it too.

But when I open my eyes, last year's standing right behind me, staring at me in the mirror with the same sad, desperate eyes that she always has. The same eyes I told her I liked on the night I met her.

Mindy was an accident.

She wandered into my room during one of Caleigh and Tanner's kick backs a couple weeks before Alex got to LA. Their parties were always packed, and Mindy stumbled into my room saying she just wanted some "space" from the chaos.

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