Author's Note:

*The majority of the characters in this story do not belong to me. The ones that do aren't in the book!*

So I decided to completely restructure this story to make it darker, more mature, more in-character. Lots of real life problems will make its way in here, not just problems about love or relationships. I'm not sure yet, but I think the story will focus primarily on the main characters' sophomore and senior years in high school. I'm also thinking that, since this story is now going to be a lot more mature, there may be a change in the ratings in the future. But I have to actually get that far first!

Also, for any waiting readers, I'm sorry that this took so long to update D:

I originally planned to finish this before I went off to college, but then I never did, and college is such a fun but busy and hectic experience that I haven't had time to really sit down and revise. But I'm done now, so voila!


Paint me a picture with words and whispers. Read me a book, or watch with me the stars. Clouds, sunsets, the magnificent ocean; frost on the sidewalks, and standing in the rain. Do all of these things with me, and hold my hand, because my heart will leap, and it will not land. If you say my name through almost-laughing smiles, just watch me closely, and I will dissolve.

But please, do these things as a friend would do. Don't give me hints, and don't make me promises, because I will believe them, and hope will return. After all, being the coward that you know so well—I'm too afraid, afraid of something more.

And please, please, please... Please don't stare right into my eyes, for against you, I have no defense. For you, my friend, my heart lays open; a window straight down into the chaos of my soul.


It's three, simple words.

Three simple, goddamn words. Probably the most uttered words of the English language. People around the world say it every single day; every single moment, even. It's the catch phrase in so many films and theater and plays and books. It's spoken so much that it's now more of a generic term than anything.

But I can't say it. I can't say those three words—not to the person I want to say it to, at least. Not to the person who matters. No matter how hard I try, I can't say it.

I hate myself for that.

ooo

It's always a nice thing to wake up to the sound of someone throwing snow balls at your window. They make these dull thumps when they hit, and you could almost imagine the snowball falling apart as it crumbles against the window pane.

Nicer, still, when you know who's throwing it. And in Mayfield, there is only one person I know who would lob snowballs at my bedroom window at 6:30 in the morning, in the middle of winter break.

I smile to myself as I untangle the blanket, pull open the curtain, and start to lift the window frame. Through the frosted glass, I see Juli Baker, bent down in my front yard, gathering snow to make more snowballs.

The window snaps open with a bang, and Juli looks up. The cold January air rushes in and stabs at my naked torso. I shiver.

"Hey!" she says, walking closer and beaming up at me. "Good morning!"

Her smile and little wave catches me unawares, and I fumble for my words.

"Hey," I manage finally. "So what's up?"

"You're up." she says, and then laughs. "God, I'm so lame."

Did I mention how much I love her laugh? It's like this sort of clear, quiet sound that reminds you of a running stream, or trickling water in a forest that's just beginning to thaw. It's wonderful.

"Very punny," I agree, and cannot help but catch some of her high energy this crisp, cold Saturday morning. "But really, what made you decide to wake up early and come bombard my window with snow?"

I could barely make out a shrug beneath her thick caramel colored coat. "I've gotta talk to you."

"Why not text?"

She shakes her head seriously. "This isn't something I can text about. Trust me."

"Oh," I say. "Wanna come in? You can come up to my room if you wanna talk."

She made a face. "I was thinking we could maybe talk at the café? I haven't been there in so long."

The café. The actual name is Café Bon Nuit, but everyone in town just calls it BN's café, or "the café", because it's the best place to get coffee (or any drink for that matter) and snacks in Mayfield. Juli could never stand how the owners put "Bon" instead of "Bonne", because Nuit is supposed to be a feminine noun. She also couldn't stand how people pronounce Nuit wrong all the time.

At the mention of Bon Nuit, I automatically imagine the smell of their caramel and cream macchiato, and my mouth starts to water. Thinking warm thoughts must've made me extra susceptible to the cold, because right then I sneeze loudly. I suppose not having a shirt on while leaning out the window in the middle of winter doesn't help either.

Man, now I really want a macchiato.

"Bless you," Juli says automatically. "So what d'ya say about the café?"

"I'm all for it!" I say enthusiastically, sneezing again. "But, Juli, don't they only open at eight thirty?"

"Exactly," she says with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "So I was thinking, how about we go make some snow angels while we wait? Oh, and bless you again."

I nod, as if that's the most normal thing in the whole entire world—which, to Juli, it is. I used to love making snow angels as a kid—I suppose she still remembers that.

"Uh. Sure? I'll get dressed then. Wait for me?"

She gives me a thumbs up, and I close my window to put on some warm clothes. I can feel a grin forming on my face.

Snow angels, at 6:30 in the morning, by high school students acting like little kids. Spontaneous, but so innocent.

Is it any wonder that I love Juli Baker as much as I do?

ooo

We make our way to the little playground that was right next to the grade school. I haven't been here in so long that I suddenly stop at the front gate, just watching everything. Juli is walking ahead, but she senses me stop, turns, and smiles, before coming back to the gate and standing next to me.

"We used to chase around that swing set." She says, pointing at the snow covered metal skeleton of said swing set. Snowfall for the past week has been heavy, and there's a thick, puffy cake-like layer of white softness on the seats.

"Yeah." That was back when she was still obsessed with me, and every recess we would play a kind of involuntary hide-and-seek to the chants of 'Bryce and Juli sitting in a tree'. I stop myself then, because I have no intention of walking through memory lane right now.

We were both so young back then. I was so young, and passed up on something beautiful and amazing. Thinking about how stupid I was often made me want to borrow a time machine, go back, and beat some sense into my young self.

"Oh, oh oh! You remember that time Luke tried to swing all the way around, and ended up banging his head?" Juli is laughing now. This playground contains too much of both of ours' memories.

I breathe out slowly. "Yeah, I remember that." My breath forms a white fog in the air, like a mist of regret. "And that time when you were trying to climb up that tree over there, to see how the view is different than from up the sycamore."

"Yes, that time! The view was totally different, by the way. It's so much worse than the sycamore."

She smiles, and her hand closes around mine.

The sudden touch, even through gloves, makes my breath hitch. My heart stops for a second before continuing on, faster than ever before. It's beating so loud that I'm almost sure she could hear it, echoing in the quiet of the winter morning.

But then the moment passes, and she lets go of my hand, and runs towards the center of the playground, where there's a big open area with lots of promising snow. My heart slowly calms down.

"Come on, Bryce!" she yells as she throws herself into the white. Shaking my head, I run forward to join her. Snow angels! Probably a perfect start to a January day. I'm going to be soaking later, when all the snow on me melts, but who cares. Diving into the white next to her, it's almost as if we're back to being kids.


That morning was the beginning of the end, when my world started to crumble. In a few months, it would come hurtling, burning, and crashing down. And being me, I would do nothing, except to sit by and watch.