❆ chapter fifteen

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New Year's Eve was lackluster in comparison to Christmas. Her parents had already headed out with a group of their college friends by the time the clock hit seven. They felt like they were doing their children a favor by leaving them to their own devices, and from Natalie's point-of-view, they were. But Nevada had no plans to meet up with anyone, which meant that she would be alone in the house with her two cats to keep her company.

To be fair, most New Year's Eve celebrations centered around heavy partying, and that sounded the opposite of appealing. Instead, she had major plans to add to her scrapbook; with the television providing background noise, she'd bring in the New Year in her calm manner.

It hadn't been until Sam had texted her to inquire about her own plans that her good mood faltered. He intended on spending it in Bellmore at a house party that he and Carter had been invited to. She didn't have the stomach to admit that her evening was looking uneventful, so she'd pretended that she was tagging along with Natalie before making an excuse to leave the conversation.

All of a sudden, she wished she were anywhere other than Highpoint.

A handful of photographs were scattered on the floor in front of her, a generous depiction of the eventful trip she'd experienced, and her scrapbook lay open to the next blank page. She neared the end, but there were still a few pages to fill before she celebrate finishing another scrapbook, and she intended on dedicating it to the trip.

Nevada was in the middle of sticking double-sided tape on the back of a picture of her and Carter standing in the snow on the second-to-last day when Natalie stumbled down the stairs. It was clear that she was heading out to the club if her outfit was any indication, but she faltered upon noticing Nevada sitting cross-legged on the floor.

"I thought you headed out with Mom and Dad," she said.

"Nope." Nevada flattened the picture onto a fresh page, smoothening the edges until the bubbles disappeared. "I'm sticking around here."

"That sounds awful," Natalie said, striding over to her, her heels clicking against the hardwood. "Why didn't Mom and Dad invite you out with them?"

"They did," she replied. She couldn't bring herself to meet her sister's gaze, though she felt it against the side of her head as relentless as a hot iron. "I told them I didn't want to and that you'd invited me out with you instead."

"Oh." Her eyebrows furrowed. "Are you coming with me then?"

"No. That was just an excuse." Her lower lip caught between her teeth as she applied tape to another picture: one of her, Cassidy, and Alicia lounging over the couch in their cabin. "I know you're trying to be a good older sister, but I'd rather be by myself tonight."

"Are you moping?"

"No. What makes you say that?"

"Because you are. Look at me, Nevada."

The command was impossible to ignore, and she paused in her task long enough to lift her head. Natalie's stare was overwhelming, assessing every emotion that flickered through her irises for any indication of what she was thinking. Finally, she asked, "Is it because of that Samuel guy?"

Nevada had finally seized the opportunity to tell Natalie most of what had occurred during the trip. Of course, Natalie had been ecstatic that Nevada had made the effort to make friends, and while the praise was welcome, something kept her from revealing everything about her relationship with Sam: she didn't know about her true feelings towards him or the multiple kisses that had happened.

She couldn't formulate a response. She just leveled her older sister with a look, a tremendous feat where Natalie towered over her in her position.

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