The first thing I noticed when I woke up that morning two years ago was the smell of cheap, hardware store wood and Old Spice after shave

The first thing I noticed when I woke up that morning two years ago was the smell of cheap, hardware store wood and Old Spice after shave. The mix of those smells were so familiar to me that, for about three minutes, it didn't even register that they were not the smells I normally recognize in the mornings. It was at that point that my eyes snapped open.

"Shit!" I cried when I saw the light colored wood planks. Light was streaming in through the large, square hole in the wall that was meant to be a window.

I jumped up so quickly that I rattled the person beside me. He groaned.

"Cole!" I hissed. "Get up!"

He twisted his back to me and flopped his hand over his eyes.

"Oh no you don't!" I pulled on his arm until he turned. "Get up, Cole."

"What?" he asked as he slowly opened his eyes to look at me.

"I fell asleep." I told him.

"Really?" He sounded calm and laid-back for the situation. But then again, Cole was always really relaxed. You could tell him he just ran over your cat and he would shrug and say 'He had it coming if he ran out in front of my car.'

"My parents will kill me." I said as I angrily stuffed my too-big feet into my dark green high-tops.

"Slow down, Brooke." he told me. I paused. His arm reached up and grabbed me around the shoulders. "Good morning." he said into my ear.

I rolled my eyes and tried to pry his arm away. "Good morning."

"Now, what time is it?" he asked, his iron grip still holding me still.

I reached over, still being kept prisoner by him, and grabbed my cell phone.

"7:45." I said.

"Your parents don't get up until at least 9:00 on weekends." he said. "And Hannah never wakes up until after noon."

"Hannah," I said as I finally managed to pull away from him. "Got a new job at CVS. She has to wake up at 8:00."

"Okay, shit." he agreed.

"There you go."

Cole and I had been neighbors since we were five. We used to play baseball with each other in his backyard (his choice) and then go for a swim in the lake across the street when it got too hot (my choice). We were best friends until our eighth grade year. Then I met Catty. Catty was the complete opposite of me. I guess that's what made us friends. She was girlie and boy-crazy. She settled for the typical teenage girl life-style. I didn't. She taught me to appreciate that.

Then she met Cole.

"He is so totally into you!" she cried as she sat on my bed.

We had been walking down my street just to get outside. I was barefoot and since my feet get tough from walking barefoot the hot asphalt didn't burn. Catty was gossiping of course. Cole was walking back, also barefoot, from the gas station just down the street with a Big Gulp of soda. He said hi to me and I introduced him to Catty. He asked if he and I were hanging out later and I told him I couldn't. Just from that short meeting Catty decided Cole was completely in love with me.

"He's my friend. I know him better than he knows himself." I said, trying to give her the idea of our relationship. "We've known each other since we were five. He's just…Cole."

"He's cute. And I know he likes you." When I looked like I was going to argue Catty held up her hand with freshly painted nails. "I know these things, Brooke."

"So what do I do?" I asked. I was used to being a tomboy and had no experience in the area of dating boys.

"Leave it to me." Catty said in her mature, superior tone.

That's when I really got scared. She would seek Cole out at school and drop casual hints about me. Eventually Cole just came up to me.


"What?" I asked. I was sitting on the swing on my front porch in short-shorts and a tank top. I never cared what I looked like in front of Cole. I was scanning a magazine Catty had left for me to, and I quote, 'educate myself'.

"Can I talk to you?"

He seemed so serious. And, trust me, Cole is never serious.

"Uh, sure." I said. I moved my feet so that he could take a seat next to me. "Have you ever looked at one of these?" I asked him, tossing the magazine to him.

He looked thoroughly disturbed as he flipped through. And rightfully so. "Brooke? I'm a guy, you know."

I laughed. "Yeah. But, see, I'm a girl, and this stuff even scares me."

"Ten Tips on Upping Your Style? The Secret Decoder for Boys? Are you kidding me?" Cole asked as he flipped through the magazine.

"Scary." I repeated.

Cole paused at the boy decoder page. "Let's see if they got this right…"

"Please don't." I begged.

Cole totally ignored me. A smile came out on his face. He always had a big smile that seemed to stretch all the way across his face. It made these little wrinkles appear up by his eyes. He looked like a little kid when he smiled. Of course, I might only say that because I knew him when he was a kid.

"Caught him staring at you across the room? 2 points." He considered this. "Okay, believable."

"Cole, what did you want to talk to me about?" I asked, desperately hoping to change the topic.

"Hold it, Brooke. This is fun." Then he cleared his throat and made his voice playfully high-pitched and girlie. He sounded a lot like Catty. "Does he wear cool clothes on Fridays, in hopes of catching your eye for weekend arrangements? Plus 1 point." He laughed. "Bullshit. We don't think about what we wear. Well, as long as we're wearing something."

I tried to grab the magazine away from him but he jerked it just out of reach over his head. The thing that really sucked for me was that by the time I got into eighth grade Cole was actually getting taller than I was. I had always been taller than him. Now it was the other way around.

"Has he ever called claiming for a page number for homework? Plus 3 points." This sent Cole laughing again. "Wow. You girls are brainwashed."

"I don't read this stuff, Cole!" I protested, not sure why it mattered so much that he knew I didn't.

"Well, just to let you know if I ever call a girl for homework it's because none of my friends knew it either and I really needed it because if I didn't turn in my work one more time Mrs. Rhodes would kill me."

That was something else about Cole. He was totally irresponsible. Never turned in homework, always back talked, and didn't worry about anything.

"Why do you need this stuff?" he asked now, shaking the magazine in front of my face. "You have your own personal boy decoder right here." He motioned to himself.

"Well, most girls aren't as lucky as me." I said.

"Be grateful Brooke Mayer. I can tell you the truth about boys."

I guess some of Catty's teachings must have sunken into me because I suddenly got an idea to get Cole to confess me liked me more than just a friend (if that was the case).

"Can you really?" I asked.

"Sure I can." He gave me that little-boy smile.

"Okay, maybe you could help me with this guy…"

I saw his face drop. "Brooke, you can't be serious."

"What? You said you would."

"I have never heard of you liking someone." he argued flatly.

"Look, Cole. We're teenagers now. It was bound to happen."

"Okay." he grumbled. He took a great big sigh. "So shoot."

"Now, he's a friend so a lot of the stuff he does could just be friendly." I started off. I could see he didn't like this conversation.


"I do catch him looking at me sometimes."

"That could be more than friendly." he said.

"He tries to hang out with me a lot."

"That's just being a friend."

"Every time I catch him watching me he looks away." I was, of course, going over the same clues I had gone over with Catty. They were about Cole. But he didn't know that.

"That's a sign." he said grimly.

"He asked Catty about me. He acts jealous of her because I spend more time with her than him. He calls to 'just talk'. Oh, and he compliments me on things he didn't used to."

"That's it Brooke. You're killing me. Who is this guy? I'm pretty sure he likes you as more than a friend." Cole exclaimed angrily.

I swallowed a nervous lump in my throat and looked away. "Well, that was all about you."

I swear his face turned the exact red color of a beet. We didn't say anything for a long time. Finally he took a deep breath.

"So… you like me?"

"Yeah." I said in a small voice.

He let out that big breath. "God, that's a big relief. You have no idea how that's been worrying me."

And just like that, we were dating. We loved to tease each other and we still acted like best friends only with some perks (kissing, tickling, and other touches of that sort). We dated all the rest of that eighth grade year. Cole was perfect for me because I liked to make drama. I over-reacted about a lot of things because my life was so normal.

I liked to have something interesting going on. And Cole was a real laid-back type. He sort of dulled me down a little. Or at least made excuses for my behavior. If someone complained about me making a mountain out of an anthill Cole would just say, 'Well that's Brooke for you.' Our favorite Friday activity was going up to his tree house and watching a movie on his old, rusty TV set.

The first Friday of the summer when we were going into our freshman year I fell asleep watching a movie. I just fell asleep right there with him on the small couch he had up in that tree house. Then I woke up with Cole's arms around my shoulders, his face tucked securely into my neck.


"If Hannah realizes I'm not there…" I trailed off, not even wanting to think about what my sister would do.

"Brooke, she won't know." he said calmly. "She'll wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave. She won't check on you."

I bit my lip. I was still in my jean shorts and white camisole. I grabbed my T-shirt I had worn over it and pulled it over my head. I slipped my cell phone in my pocket and pulled my blonde hair into a high ponytail.

"I'll call you." I told him.

I walked over to where he was still on the couch. He kissed me and then waved me out. I dropped off the stepladder halfway down. I glanced toward his house. His father would still be asleep. His mother lived in an apartment somewhere in Virginia.

I loved running. I was on the track team because I have long legs. But I hated running in jeans. But I made an exception. I sprinted across Cole's lawn, still fresh with dew, climbed and jumped over his wire fence in two moves, and sprinted to the sliding glass doors leading out to our back patio. I glanced back to the tree house. I could see Cole still sitting on the couch, black hair messy and dark blue eyes laughing at me.

I waved. He lifted a hand back. Then I quietly slipped off my high-tops, kicked them into the corner of the kitchen, and tiptoed upstairs. I undressed fast and slipped into some PJ pants and an old soccer jersey from when I played on a team in sixth grade. My body shape hadn't changed much since then and I was only about two inches taller. My legs did all the growing, not my torso.

I slipped into my bed and closed my eyes, breathing hard on my pillow. Soon, I heard my sister's alarm go off through the wall. Her room was just on the other side of mine.

My room wasn't much. The walls were all dark wood paneling. Cole and I had been planning to paint it but we never did. The ceiling slanted to the side with wood rafters. I had three windows all right next to each other facing the front lawn. I shared a bathroom with Hannah down the hall. Hannah was two years older than I was.

She didn't check on me that morning. But I, always over-reacting, made a big deal out of it to Cole later. That was the first night I fell asleep in that tree house. But it wasn't the last time. Not even close.


Two years later I woke up to the same room I'd looked at that morning. I was sixteen now. I hadn't seen Cole in a year and a half. His father was in the military and was re-stationed in Florida. So they moved. But that wasn't the only reason I didn't talk to him anymore. I didn't like to think about it either.

"Brooke, are you awake, hun?" That was Kathy calling in from the hallway.

I stayed silent. Maybe she wouldn't come check on me. Maybe she would just leave me alone. No chance.

I heard her heavy hiker boots clomping up the stairs. My door cracked open. It squeaked. I needed to oil those joints.

"Brooke, get up hun. You mama's gonna flip out if you over sleep again."

Kathy was Southern. She was my mom's best friend. She lived with us not but she said it was only temporary. Her most current boyfriend threw her out of the apartment and so she came to us. My dad had died in a car crash right after that morning I woke up in Cole's tree house. That was a really hard time. Maybe that was why I clung to Cole that summer.

"I don't want this job." I grumbled into my pillow.

"I know. I know." Kathy cooed in her heavy accent. I felt her sit down on the corner of my bed, tilting the whole mattress.

"Tell Mom I quit. Tell her I'm tired of working at that goddamn restaurant."

"I can't say that." Kathy told me. "Just give it another shot, babe."

I lifted myself onto my butt and faced Kathy. Kathy had big hair. She was a flaming redhead and she got perms about every other day. She had tan skin and deep blue eyes. Her teeth were pretty crooked and she had some gold capped teeth in the back but she still had a nice smile. And a huge laugh. When I was little I used to think it would shake the house. She was sort of heavy with a big bosom and soft facial features.

"Fine." I muttered. "I'm going."

Kathy patted my shoulder and tromped out of my room. I slid to the edge of the bed and rubbed my eyes. Mom was working overtime to support us in our house. I didn't want to move so she had to work her ass off to pay rent. Kathy was helping us too. But I had to work now also. Hannah was off at college but paid for most of it since Mom couldn't. But Hannah was home for the summer and supported our cause.

My cousin, the only one that lived in the same state as us, worked at a small breakfast and lunch diner called Ricky Nick's. My mom thought this was perfect for me and signed me right up. I swore if I had to work another day in that old fashion diner that I would croak. But Kathy would come to my bedroom every morning and wake me up to go to work. Mom was off at work already, of course.

Our house was sort of crazy in the summers. Especially that summer. With Kathy and Hannah living with us our house was a constant girl headquarters. Mom wasn't a party animal but Kathy always brought out the worst in her. Hannah was responsible too but that didn't mean she didn't love the classic girl talks and late nights up with Kathy. Everybody loved Kathy. It was her motto.

I took a shower and was thankful for the fact that Hannah had a morning shift at Walmart and we wouldn't have to fight over the bathroom. After I got out I wrapped a white terry towel around myself and wiped the steam off the mirror. I hated my skin. I had really pale skin. I looked at all those girls with long blonde hair and tan skin and perfect bodies and cursed that skin.

I had long gangly legs and a small torso. My long, blonde hair was always tangled and matted and got strange dark highlights. Catty had convinced me to get layers because my hair was so plain. They turned out really ragged and twirled up in weird ways. But my mom told me to be thankful. I had clear eyes, relatively clear skin, and was average sized. Track and swimming took care of that.

I got dressed in a pair of old jean shorts that had a tear at the hem line at the bottom so all the strings were hanging down. I pulled on a blue tank top and tugged my impossible hair into the only thing it could manage which was, of course, a high ponytail.

"Good morning Gorgeous." Kathy called from over the top of her People magazine as I walked into the kitchen.

Kathy loved interior design and decided that if she was going stay in our house for the summer it needed a little picker-upper. We now had pink and orange beaded curtains covering just about every doorway in the house and cheap pieces of art thrown onto the walls. Kathy had made her contribution to the kitchen by buying bright neon colored plastic utensils and plates. You could see them all around the blue tiled counters. It was nice to have some color though because other than the blue counter tops the kitchen was totally white. Clean and white. Mom was a bit of a neat freak.

"Morning." I answered as I grabbed two pieces of bread and popped them into the toaster. "You want something to eat?"

"Nah, I'm heading out in a minute to see a friend about some brunch. I'll be okay."

"I'll see you later." I told her as I finished up my toast.

Ellen, my cousin that worked with me at the diner, always picked me up at the gas station just down the road. Mom, Hannah, Kathy, and I lived at the entrance to a neighborhood and it took less than five minutes to walk to the shopping center just on the other side of the cul-de-sac.

I walked barefoot down the street. My feet were tough already and oblivious to the heat. I slipped my shades on over my eyes and brought my iPod out of my pocket. I loved my neighborhood. It's one of those places where everyone knows everybody. Kathy was even accepted into our little society now. She already had the reputation of the Gossip. I just shook my head when I heard this but Kathy flashed them smiles. 'Yep, that's me!' she would proclaim proudly.

I made sure no cars were coming down the street before running across into the shopping center. Cars took the turn into Grandview Shopping Center way too fast. But my house and Cole's old house (which was on the very end of the road into the neighborhood) were the only ones affected by it.

Half of our neighborhood was made up of old senior citizens that had retired to a small, safe neighborhood away from downtown. The other half were young mothers and fathers with toddlers. My family was the only one with teenagers. That is why Cole and I became friends I guess. We were the only ones our age, surrounded by old folks and pregnant mothers.

I finally reached the gas station. I opened the door to the convenience store, listening to the automatic ding-dong sounding as I walked through.

"Hey Brooke."

"Hi Gus." I said to the boy behind the counter. "Got coffee for me?"

He smiled a big toothy grin, showing off his shiny braces. My mom hated coffee and insisted on drinking tea. So I had to find other places to get my caffeine fix.

"Sure do." He nodded toward the cheap coffee maker behind the counter.

I heard a car pulling into the station outside. I lifted myself onto the counter and swung my legs around. Gus jumped back so I wouldn't hit him. I hopped down, now on his side of the counter. Pouring a Styrofoam cup full off the dark coffee, I glanced over my shoulder at him.

"Thanks Gus." I told him with my best smile. I watched him melt a little. He was a year younger than me and had had a crush on me since I started coming down to the Station. He has red hair and freckles but he's cute, in a little-puppy-running-into-a-wall kind of way.

I grabbed a newspaper from the back, leaned back in a fold out chair, and sipped my coffee. I heard the door open with the automatic ding-dong. I didn't even both looking over my newspaper.

"Hey man!" Gus said. I heard him high-five whoever was on the other side of the counter.

"What's happenin' Gus? Man, you and the band sounded great last night." a deeper voice responded.

I lowered the newspaper a little and glanced over the top. A good-looking blonde boy was standing on the other side of the counter, his green-brown eyes excited. I sipped my coffee slowly.

"Dude, thanks!" Gus replied. I had forgotten Gus was in a band. I had seen flyers saying they were playing at a downtown Gallery Hop. Gallery Hop was whenever they had live music down town and art showcases at the galleries. His band was called Socrates.

I saw the new boy's eyes drift over to me. I lowered my eyes immediately, acting like I was interested in something in the paper.

"Hello." he said in a smooth voice.

I acted like I hadn't heard.

"Brooke, I want you to meet someone." Gus said.

No avoiding it now. I lowered my paper and walked over to the front of the counter.

"Hi." the boy said. "Do you work here?"

I narrowed my eyes. "No."

"She's a friend of mine. Lives up the street. Her cousin picks her up here to take her to work." Gus said. He seemed proud to tell the kid that I was his friend.

"Well I'm Roger." he told me, leaning over the counter.

"I'm Brooke." I prayed for Ellen to show up soon.

For as much coaching as Catty gave me in flirting with boys I sucked at it. In fact I was scared of it. With boys that were my friends like Gus or Cole I was fine. Flirtatious and laid back. But new guys? Forget it.

"You live nearby then? So do I. Just in the neighborhood down the next street." he told me, motioning flippantly in that direction.

"That's great. I live in the one to the right of Grandview."

I was still a bit of a tomboy at heart and as soon as I saw Ellen pulling up I didn't care what would look appropriate for me to do. She I just pulled myself back up on the counter top and swiveled around on my butt. Roger was still staring at me as I hoped down.

"Thanks Gus." I said and started out of the store.

"Brooke?" That was Roger.

I sighed. I hated talking to guys that were obviously out of my league. I mean, this kid was what Catty would call a lever 9 hottie. She would be all on him if she were here.

"Hmm?" I asked and turned back to look at him.

"Do you want to do something sometime? I don't know… go see a movie."

I could have hit the floor. I mean, really! I think Gus was about to have a conniption. But Roger was asking me honestly, not even playing a joke. I suddenly got that confident feeling I develop when I know a guy likes me.

So even though Ellen was waiting in her jeep outside I started my full-blown flirt routine, which Catty said was virtually unresistible. Catty always said I have a big head start when it comes to boys because I was a pretty blonde. I would tell her I'm not pretty. She would roll her eyes, a classic Catty move.

I flashed Roger my best smile, pulled the elastic band out of my hair so that it fell around my shoulders (and I had to admit looked better than it did up even with my hideous haircut).

Roger's smile widened, as if he understood what I was doing. I stuck my hand on my hip, brushing my tank up a little to show him some skin.

"I don't think so…what is it? Roger." I said softly. "See you later."

Roger wasn't smiling anymore. I knew that if he was really interested he could get my number from Gus. But Ellen honked curtly from her jeep so I blew Roger, still slightly dumbstruck, a kiss and ran out to meet Ellen, my golden hair flying behind me.