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Chapter 1

Oz

July

 

Beer bottles and pizza boxes littered the living room floor. Ford and Fin argued about what gun was best as they played in a Call of Duty’s War Zone tournament. Neither could agree, and I didn’t care, so I zoned out, thinking about how difficult football practice was going to be when it started in a couple of days. I’d been slacking for the last month on working out, and I was going to pay for it.

Tonight was my first night in the new house Fin had bought at the beginning of summer. It wasn’t much, but it got us out of the football house and into our own place where no one could bother us. I would have been here sooner, but I stayed back in Santa Lucia an extra couple of days so that I could help Dani and Lo move back to UCLA. I then spent the next week dealing with my blackmailer, Dean.

Fin, my best friend since first grade, sat down beside me and clapped his hand on my shoulder. His black hair had grown out a little more over the summer. The sides were shaved, and the length hung over his forehead and covered one eye.

“How’d the move with the girls go?” He asked, watching as Ford tried to teach West how to play the game they were playing.

“Besides them having a lot of shit? Fine, but next time I’m not doing it alone. You’re helping.”

“I’m an asshole, but my boyfriend was finally coming home, and I wanted to spend some time alone with him before all you assholes moved in,” Fin grumbled.

“Well, I could have moved in a couple of weeks ago, and then you wouldn’t have gotten your alone time.” I flashed him a smile, knowing he wouldn’t like my smart-ass remark.

Fin shoved my shoulder and let out a grumbled ‘asshole’ before he flashed his own smile at me, letting me know he was going to say some asshole remark. “I would have kicked you out and made you sleep in the yard.”

He probably would have.

“Did you at least make any headway with Lo? Ask her on a date while you were in the same town as her for the summer?”

I kept my gaze on the TV, ignoring him. He knew the answer to his question and only wanted to give me shit. I’d been in love with Lo since our freshman year in high school when she moved to my hometown and became best friends with my twin sister, Danica.

The only thing was Lo’s off-limits.

I was a bit of a manwhore before Lo came into my life. I got an early start, and by the time we started high school, I’d gone through most of the female population in our small town that was my age and had a bad reputation with the ladies. Since Lo became the object of my desire, I haven’t been with many women, but a guy has needs, and five years was a long ass time to wait.

Dani seemed to love to remind me of my manwhore ways when Lo was in the room, which made it seem pointless even to try making her see me in a different light. Who knew what my sister said to her when I wasn’t around? And it wasn’t even like Dani and I didn’t get along. We did. She was my best friend next to Fin.

My phone rang, lighting up with Dani’s picture on it. Speak of the devil.

“Hey, miss me already?”

“Oz?” Dani cried.

I sat up ramrod straight, hearing how upset she was.

“What’s wrong?”

At hearing my tone, Fin sat forward and turned to look at me, mouthing. ‘what’s going on?’.

I lifted the shoulder that wasn’t attached to my phone.

“It’s Lo,” she sobbed.

Jumping up, I started to pace the small living room floor. “What about her?”

“Oz, it’s bad. Really bad. I can’t… even… can you come here? We need you.”

“I’m on my way,” I said as I patted down the pockets of my cargo shorts, checking for my keys. When I felt them, I headed for the front door.

A heavy hand stopped me on my shoulder. “What the fuck, man? Are you headed to LA?”

“Yeah, something’s happened with Lo, and Dani asked me to come. I’ve got to go.” I shrugged his hand off my shoulder and pulled out my keys.

I heard him jog down the stairs as he shouted. “Do you need me to come?”

Beeping the locks on my car, I looked at him. “I don’t know. I haven’t heard Dani sound like that since Pookie died.”

“And she wouldn’t tell you why?” He turned to look back at the house and then at me.

“No, but they need me, so I’m going. It’s okay. You can stay. It will be a long drive.” I opened my car door.

“No, I’m coming. Just give me a second.”

“One second,” I called back. There was no way I could wait any longer than that.

I’d hit the engine start button when Fin and West came barreling down the stairs. Fin got into the passenger seat, and West slid in the back behind his boyfriend.

We said nothing on the normally three-hour drive that took a little more than two hours. My mind raced with the possibilities of what could have happened that would have led Dani to call me crying. She was a tough chick, and I knew deep down in my soul it was bad.

I parked what seemed like a football field away from the entrance to their dorm and sprinted to the door, not thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to get in. Luckily, Fin was on it and texted Dani to come down and meet us. At least someone had their head about them. The last two hours had been the longest of my life.

Dani showed up downstairs, and with one look at my sister, I knew nothing I had imagined could compare to what really happened to Lo. Dani’s face was streaked with tears, her eyes were puffy and red-rimmed, and she looked like she was about to drop from exhaustion.

Did Lo have cancer?

We followed Dani as she dragged her body up three flights of stairs. I wrapped my arm around her waist and let her lean on me for support. She was dead on her feet, and that was a lot coming from an athlete.

Stopping outside their room door, Dani looked at me with pleading eyes filled with tears.

“Before you go in, you should know. I don’t know how she’s going to react, but you were the only person I could think to call. She didn’t want me to call her parents or her brother, so…”

“Just tell us already,” Fin softly demanded, which was an improvement for him. “What happened to Lo?”

Tears started streaming down Dani’s face. “She was raped.”

COMING NOVEMBER 18TH TO AMAZON AND NOVEMBER 16TH TO ALL OTHER PLATFORMS.