When I finally met Emerson, I instantly despised her. Not because she was beautiful, and not because I sat around all week listening to Cole and Jax talk about her like she walked on water. None of that bothered me. What made me seethe was that the first time I met her, Jace had his arm around her shoulders. Who the hell was this girl, and how did she have all of these guys wrapped around her little finger?

Cole’s new girlfriend lived next door, and from what I was able to gather, she was Em’s best friend. I figured out that Jace had been hiding out over there, so every day I tried to stay close to the door in hopes that I could catch him. One day I heard him outside the apartment calling out to Quinn and I jumped up to open the door. He was already running down the hallway and heading out toward the parking lot. I was still in my pajamas and my hair was in a messy bun on the top of my head, but I didn’t care. My time was running out. Lane had called that morning to ask about my progress, and when I told him I was still at square one, he told me that I needed to kick it into high gear. I had classes to get back to.

Jace came back down the hallway with one arm wrapped around a beautiful, blonde-haired girl who could only be the infamous Emerson. His opposite hand was holding a large duffel bag. I winced, knowing that I was going to have to do this in front of her. But before I could even get introductions in, I had already pissed off Jace.

I wasn’t trying to be snarky when I said, “You must be the golden girl, Em, all of my boys are talking about.” I was trying to lighten the mood and get her to hang around for a while. I knew if she left, Jace would follow.

She didn’t even get the opportunity to reply. Jace icily told me to go away, and then he slipped into Quinn’s apartment behind Em. Behind the closed door, I heard their muffled voices and thanked the heavens I couldn’t make out what they had to say about me. Right then, I realized that maybe I was once again making a fool out of myself. I slid down the wall to the ground and cried quietly into my hands.

Since it’s my last day here, I take a walk to try and actually enjoy this beautiful city. Last night, I finally came to the conclusion that this trip has been a failure. There’s a thin line between determined and pathetic, and I had crossed over into pathetic territory. I need to go home and just get Jace out of my head. Yes, I wish he would have listened to what I had to say, but I can’t keep thinking about someone who won’t even talk to me.

After watching the early morning surfers, I decide to attempt a different direction back to the apartment and happen upon the giant campus where Jace and Jax attend. The grounds really are quite beautiful with their red brick buildings, spectacular fountains, and towering palm trees scattered throughout. The library alone is a sight to behold. There’s a giant water fountain out front and a long garden filled with red and gold flowers. If I attended this school, I would love to sit out here between classes and listen to the relaxing sounds of the fountain.

Eventually, I come across Jaxon sitting under a tree in the middle of a beautiful courtyard. I hesitate for a moment, trying to figure out if it’s really such a great idea talking to him again. I finally come to the conclusion that I need to at least apologize for taking over his living room this week, and let him know that I won’t be bothering him again.

As I start to walk toward him, I notice Emerson approach him first. He lifts his head to look at her with a smirk on his face and a look of adoration in his eyes. I haven’t spoken to Jaxon much while I’ve been here, since he’s spent all of his time either sulking in his room or talking to Cole about Emerson. But if this week hadn’t already proved it, that look alone would have told me how crazy he is about her. It’s obvious she’s really done a number on this guy, because I never thought Jaxon Riley would be this whipped by just one girl.

As I approach, I think about what I should say. Maybe if I joke around with them, they’ll be more inclined to talk to me. Maybe if I get on Emerson’s good side, she will show me some female solidarity and help me find Jace.

I call out before I reach them so I won’t overhear a private conversation. “There you are!” I smile toward them.

Jaxon slams his textbook shut and stands up, glaring at me. I decide to turn my smile toward Emerson, but she’s only watching him.

“I’ve been looking all over for you, Jaxy,” I say, while inwardly cringing at my awkward attempt at sounding light-hearted. I guess not having many friends throughout life has made me socially incompetent. I have never called Jaxon by that nickname in the past and I can’t believe I just called him that now.

“What are you doing here, Audrey? I said I would come back to meet you at the apartment after my classes,” Jaxon growls at me.

Think of something, Audrey. “What, I can’t come hang out with my hubby? Besides, it doesn’t look like you’re in class anyway,” I joke. Sometimes I still can’t believe that we were so immature to run off and get married. But then again, I had already made the biggest mistake of my life four weeks before that…

“Audrey, shut the hell up!” Jaxon yells, while reaching for Emerson.

As he calls out to her retreating form, I realize that I just made Mess #7,594. She obviously didn’t know about our sham of a marriage that was immediately annulled, and my big mouth just tried to joke about it.

“She didn’t know? Jaxon… I’m so sorry…. I figured since you two are together… she had to know…. Shit! I’m so sorry. I was trying to make a joke.”

He points directly at me and says, “Go home. Not my home. Yours.”

I know Lane has a night class and I don’t want him to have to skip, so he’ll have to come back up to get me tomorrow morning. “I leave first thing in the morning,” I assure him.

“Sure,” I reply and begin my walk back to the apartment. Once Jace finds out I’ve pissed off Em, he definitely won’t want to talk to me either.

Basically, the whole week has been one big, fat flashing neon sign telling me to forget about this whole pipe dream I’ve had and move on. The one thing I can say is that I’ll never look back on this time and regret not trying. I’ve made the effort and gone the distance. Once again, no one has put in any energy toward me. I need someone who wants to meet me halfway, and I deserve it. Besides, I need to stop lusting after a guy I met three years ago, and who has barely said a handful of words to me since.

Jace doesn’t want me, I finally understand that, and Jaxon never even tried to speak to me amicably. Anytime I approached him, he practically snarled at me. If this had been four years ago, I would have been able to think of a million different reasons why people should hate me. Not now though. Now I think Jaxon is an as**ole and Jace just doesn’t care.

I slowly return from my painful memories to hear whispering coming from outside of the kitchen. I’m supposed to be unpacking, but the furthest I’ve gotten is taking three glass mugs out of one cardboard box.

“Watch this boy.” I look into the dining room and see Lane sitting at our table with Chuck between his legs. “And… she’s back,” he says, patting Chuck’s copper-colored fur. “Wow doll, that must have been a good one.”

I have always had a habit of zoning out for long periods of time, which is probably a side effect of my past. If you imagine yourself anywhere else, you just might forget about what’s happening in the present. While I don’t get beat anymore, I still find myself getting lost in thought all of the time. It’s easy for my mind to slip in and out. Lane likes to make light of the subject, but I can tell it worries him.

“How long was I out?” I ask, as I begin putting the remaining mugs into the cabinet.

“I’m not sure, but it was a while. I finished unpacking the truck, and then Chuck and I sat here waiting for your return.”

Moving here has been throwing me off lately. “Damn, I really need to snap out of it. How am I supposed to pay attention in class again soon?”

“I hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but you shouldn’t have gotten a taste. Ever since winter break, it’s only gotten worse. You should have already learned your lesson from your disaster visit up to see him. You need to go out there and just bang someone new. It’ll help, I swear,” he chuckles, while giving me his devilish grin. I know he’s full of shit because he rarely lets any guy near me.

“I told you we shouldn’t have gone to Texas, just so you could see what a loser I actually was!”

“Hey, I wanted to see where my girl grew up,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

I still can’t believe he convinced me to go all the way back to Texas with him for winter break this past year. He’s been asking to go since we moved in together my freshman year because he wanted to see where I came from. I never had any desire to go back and I still don’t understand what he wanted to see.

It’s not like I have any good memories from there. Just two pissed off people I left behind and that’s only because I took Chuck, not because they miss me. I like to think of taking Chuck as my way of sticking it to my dad without actually having to see him. Besides, Chuck’s happier here anyways, since he never has to scrounge for food with me.

Jax and I have only been living in California for about five months now, and I already miss Texas like crazy. As we drive through our little town, I think about how this place is home to me. California is fun, but I’m ready to be done with school so I can get back here.

I’ve been looking forward to our trip home for a while, but more so in the past couple of weeks. Cole’s always locked away with Quinn and Jaxon is so far up Em’s ass I don’t even recognize him. I love Em to death, and she is by far the best thing that’s happened to Jax, but damn I’m jealous.

I want a girl riding next to me in my truck or on the back of my motorcycle. I want a girl to just lie around in bed with me for hours on a Saturday. When I see the way my brother looks at Em when she’s not paying attention, I want that. Yeah, I’m in college and I should be out there living it up with a different notch on my belt every weekend, but that’s just not me.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten we’re getting you laid on this trip, man,” Jax interrupts my thoughts.

“I think I can take care of myself,” I reply, while watching the shops pass by out the window.

“Nah, you’re a cranky bastard. It’s happening,” Cole says from the backseat. “We should hit up that party tonight at Hunter’s lake house.”

“Or we could just find you a chick right now,” Jax challenges, pointing to the back of a brunette walking down the street.

“You mean the girl with another dude’s arm wrapped around her?” I ask.

I can’t help staring at her ass though, and there is something about a set of long legs on a girl. I’m tall, so I like my girls tall as well. All that bending over shit that Jax and Cole do with their girlfriends is not for me. I’d still like to be able to stand up straight when I’m seventy.

“She is pretty hot though, I’ll give you that.”

As we drive past them, my eyes are glued to her. “Fuck, isn’t that Audrey?” Cole asks. Yes, it sure is.

“Who the hell is she with?” I growl. “Have you ever seen him before?” My head is still turned and my eyes can’t seem to stop looking at her.

“I don’t give a damn who she’s with,” Jaxon states in an annoyed tone and continues driving forward. Meanwhile, all I want him to do is turn the f**k around.

“She looks...good…” I try to say only to myself. When she’s too far away to see, I turn back around in my seat. I notice that Cole’s too quiet, and when I glance back at him, I see that he’s studying me. Inquisitive bastard.

Two hours into the party, Jaxon’s being a pu**y and leaving because he needs to call Em. Cole is already passed out drunk on one of the couches, which just seems like bad news for him. I should probably call Quinn later and tell her that he’s okay. We ended up taking two cars because I figured at least one of them would need to report in to their ball and chain.

Now that I’m alone, all I can think about is the dude with his arm around Audrey earlier today. Jax and I are not small, by any means. Thankfully, we got our build from our dad’s side of the family. When my dad died, he was thirty-five years old, but he was six-three and could still bench-press double his weight.

That guy with Audrey today looked threatening. Not saying I couldn’t take him; I’ve had plenty of experience my whole life fighting with Jax. He’s probably tried every move in the book on me, and I’ve always been able to counter them. And why the hell am I thinking about taking out Audrey’s boyfriend anyway?

For the first time in years, I consider getting wasted. I went drinking with Jax and Cole a few times when I was seventeen but hated the stuff, so I haven’t touched any alcohol since. However, it seems to help others when they want to forget hostile thoughts, and Audrey’s boyfriend is definitely making me feel aggressive tonight.

She seems to be a recurring weak point for me. When she came out to California to see Jax a couple of months ago, it took everything inside of me to stay away from her. I knew that if I let myself even stop to talk, I would end up grabbing her and holding her hostage in my room. Then I would definitely have some uncomfortable explaining to do.

A bubbly, short blonde stumbles up next to me with two plastic cups in her hands. She tries to mesh her body up close to mine, but her head only reaches my chest.