CHAPTER TWO

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The sound of that stupid wind-up Toyota zooming down my street ― away from where I stood half-frozen and alone on my front porch, in the very spot where Aaron and I had shared our first kiss, no less ― seemed to seal my romantic fate with a crushing finality that radiated through my bones.

Mouth pressed into a tight line, I glared after the bright red body with its over-the-top black racing stripe as it blurred across the neighborhood, sticking out like a neon sign in all the gray gloom. I stared at the last spot I'd seen it long after it had disappeared from view, my mind toiling over the conversation leading up to and following what was now effectively our breakup.

"Kris? Is that you, honey? Why on Earth are you just standing out here in the cold?" I turned to see Mom behind me in the open doorway with her arms braced around her ribcage, her shoulders nearly touching her ears as she shivered in her flannel shirt and Long Johns. "Come inside before you catch your death. Where's Aaron? Did he drop you off? He must have been in a hurry to get home to his folks, huh? That's fine, though. It's so awful out, he needs to be home and off these roads."

My mom's biggest personality flaw was staying quiet for too long, usually from nodding her way through endless small talk and prayer requests with well-meaning church members, and then, in private, bursting at the seams with word-vomit to compensate for her previous containment. She didn't do it intentionally, but it didn't change the fact that her babble was overwhelming at times ― like now, when I only wanted to think in peace.

"I was going to offer him hot cocoa if he stayed for a bit. He usually does, even if just for a minute. Do you want some cocoa, honey? It'll warm you right up."

"No, thanks, Mom."

Her head dipped to the side, giving her a distinct resemblance to a Cocker Spaniel with her wavy auburn hair tied into low pigtails. "Where have you been, anyway? It's almost suppertime, and the neighbor kids have been home for hours. I tried to call you, but all I got was voicemail. I was worried, you know."

"My phone died during school because I left it off the charger by accident last night. Can't we talk about this inside?" I gently shoved past her into the foyer. The temperature was infinitely warmer in here, and my knees nearly buckled from relief.

Mom closed the door behind us and immediately set herself to helping me disentangle from my scarf. In doing so, she brushed my cheeks with her fingers and clucked her tongue. "Your skin is like ice! Goodness, this weather is just terrible. I don't know that I've seen it get this cold in these parts in my lifetime! They say it's supposed to drop fifteen more degrees overnight, can you believe that?" Flinging my freed scarf over her shoulder, she went to work on my gloves. "I hope you kids weren't driving around in this any more than necessary. I'm so thankful the students were only made to attend half a day of school today! Of course, you'll hate them for it next time there's a scheduled Snow Day and you have to go to school instead of staying home."

"I'll live," I mumbled, only halfway paying attention now. I was having visions of that cocoa she'd mentioned, heavy on the whipped cream and marshmallows, then sneaking away to my bedroom where I could wallow openly over the idiocy that was my boyfriend ― well, ex-boyfriend now.

"Aaron will let you know when he makes it home, right? I'll feel better when I know he got there okay. You'd better go charge your phone, though, or else you won't know."

Carefully sidestepping her earlier question, I handed over my coat and the sweatshirt I'd been wearing underneath it ― formerly my favorite, an old one in our school colors with a tear in the left sleeve...that belonged to Aaron ― and headed for the stairs.

"Wait, honey, you forgot your sweatshirt. You must not have realized you handed it to me." Mom held it out with a clueless smile like she was doing me a favor; I took it begrudgingly. I'd been bitterly satisfied to ditch it, as though it were an actual diss on Aaron, but I could just as easily entomb it in a blanket at the bottom of my closet as I could abandon it downstairs ― and one of those options had significantly less confrontation with my mother.

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