Entangled Collateral - First 4 Chaps

Chapter 1 – Entangled Collateral


Do you ever feel like you’re being followed? I’m talking about the someone-sneaking-behind-you-in-the-shadows-peeking-at-you-from-behind-a-tree following. Because that’s how I feel right now. I am on campus. So, technically, it could be someone who recognizes me and they’re just staring at me because they like my outfit. Or that’s just wishful thinking.

I stop at a bench and sit down. If I can scan the entire area maybe I’ll feel better if I don’t see anyone pop out from behind a tree. The area around the University of Houston is not the safest, so I have the right to be paranoid. I spot Tom, and my lungs start working again. Duh! It’s just Tom.

“Brooke, you look sick. Are you feeling OK?” Tom asks.

Tom and I have been friends since…forever. He was the boy down the street who came over to play. We lost touch after middle school, and then fate brought us back together at UH—and gas prices skyrocketed. So we carpool now.

Okay, so UH didn’t bring us back together. It was more my mom’s doing. She heard about Tom’s internship at CheckBank in downtown Houston and, in an effort to marry me off after graduation, she called Tom’s mother and told her it’d be a good idea for us to carpool to school. When it comes right down to it, we do live pretty far from UH in the Houston suburbs called League City, about a forty-minute drive if there isn’t any traffic.

I squint up at Tom as he hovers over me. Someone’s arm wraps around my shoulders. “Is this guy giving you trouble?” Bob asks.

I tilt my head to get a good look at Bob because he never ceases to amaze me. Last year he had shoulder-length black hair and only wore varying shades of black. That’s not the case this year. This year his hair is bright red—Ronald-the-clown red. And it’s spiked high in a Mohawk.

“Wow! You do look sick! Who knew your skin could turn white like that,” Bob seconds Tom.

I understand why they’re questioning my pallor. My skin has natural copper tones; and people tell me I have nice legs. I thought I’d throw in the ‘nice legs’ part in an effort to make me feel better and bring back my natural color. People also tell me I’m the clone of my mother. I may have inherited everything from her side of the family, but I’m told I have my dad’s smile.

Tom and Bob gaze at me until I smile and pretend everything is back to normal, and then I tell them I feel like vomiting. They both simultaneously stare down at my stomach. I want to smack them both upside their heads but I probably wouldn’t be fast enough. Plus, Bob’s so tall I’d probably have to jump, and if I jump and miss I’d look like an idiot.

Tom would be the easier mark since he’s only a couple inches taller than me, but I’m sorta starting to get used to having him around again. I’m not sure what’s happening between us because we tend to push each other away. I have a commitment issue and—well, I have no idea what his issue is.

Combing his fingers through his wavy brown hair, Tom puts every strand that is out of place back into its rightful spot as we walk. Bob chats away about some physics project he has due, but his voice simply goes in one of my ears and out the other. We all go our separate ways, considering we each major in something completely different. Bob is all about science, and Tom is sucked into the business world; while I have fun doing my arts and crafts. Unfortunately an art degree isn’t one of those majors where I graduate and jump right into a position.

As soon as we all separate I crash into someone and drop my book bag. I guess thinking about a job and walking isn’t a good combination for me. Who can blame me for worrying? I don’t want to be stuck living with my parents till I’m thirty.

Yes, I, Brooke Hudson, still live with my parents. In my defense this will be my last semester of college, and I will finally have my BA in Art.

The pretty blonde girl and I start to apologize at the same time. I pick up my bag and figure she’ll be on her way like I intend to be. Instead she stands in front of me, smiling; and it isn’t a sincere, apologetic smile. It’s an I-wanted-to-bump-into-you-because-I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile. And to top it off, I catch a mischievous glint in her peridot eyes.

“Have we met before?” she asks, pulling her short blond hair out of her face.

“I don’t think so,” I answer, trying to angle around her to get to my next class on time.

She ends up moving side to side with me until I give up and decide to let her pass me first. But, as soon as I stop, she stops. And then she holds out her hand. “I’m Alice. I think you’re in photo club with me.”

Talk about assertive. Okay, let’s do the hand-shaking thing and email exchange over a coffee when my class isn’t starting in two minutes.

“Brooke. Um, my class is probably starting in a few minutes,” I mumble while trying to get her to catch the hint.

“Oh, which way are you going?” she questions, waiting for me to pick a direction.

I point behind her. Of course, she tags along. Is it just me? My stranger-danger radar is blaring, and sirens are screaming in my head. Shouldn’t hers be doing the same thing? Unless she’s hitting on me.

If I was pale earlier I’d probably blend in with a basket of tomatoes right now.

“Are you from around here?” she asks.

“I live a few minutes away,” I lie, walking a little bit faster.

“I just moved here a few months ago. Anything you recommend to a newcomer?”

“Depends on where you live. This is me; see ya later,” I say politely before I rush into the classroom. As soon as I enter the room empty desks stare back at me. Damn! Class must have been canceled. I don’t wanna go back out there. Alice could be waiting for me, and I have a whole hour and a half. I wait in the empty classroom for five minutes before gently opening the door to peer around before exiting. Alice is walking far away with another companion she picked up—this time, a guy. They both walk out of sight and I stop holding my breath.

I text Tom to tell him I’m done for the day and we can go home early. He always studies at the library while he waits for my last class to end. I meet him at the library, and we slowly make our way back to my car. We take turns driving every week, and it’s my turn. I tell him about Alice and he shrugs his shoulders, “Maybe she’s just being nice and she did recognize you from your club. She probably just wants to make some new friends. Why are you giving her such a hard time?”

“I don’t know. If I tell you something will you keep it between us?” I ask while debating to tell him the truth or not.


“I’ve been getting this weird feeling—like I’m being followed. And I know it’s probably my imagination or paranoia or something but I can’t help it,” I reveal. I’m glad I’m driving and have an excuse not to glance at Tom to see his expression.

“And you think it’s this Alice girl?”

“No. I’m just saying that’s probably why I’m overanalyzing it.”

“Do I need to talk to Bob about shifts at school to walk you to and from classes?”

“If I wasn’t driving I’d smack you so hard your eyes would pop out of your head,” I threaten.

“That kind of anger will get you in trouble one of these days,” he chuckles and pokes me in my side.

“Do you want me to crash?” I raise my voice, trying to block his pokes and still keep my old beater between the lines.

“No. I don’t want you to crash. I probably shouldn’t distract you, or you’ll give women a bad reputation for driving. Not that you haven’t already,” he adds playfully.

“If I’m such a bad driver then why don’t you drive and I’ll just give you gas money,” I offer in a snooty voice.

“And give up my personal chauffeur? No way!” Tom tips his seat back and puts his hands behind his head, a smirk playing around his lips for the rest of the drive.

After I drop him off I head home. I walk into my house and place my key on the key ring—a ritual I must do every day—otherwise, I’ll lose my keys for sure. I contemplate the stairs in front of me and debate whether to go right, left, or straight up the stairs. The living room resides to the left, but I never really go in there unless I want to invade my dad’s personal space. I won’t make left a choice. If I go to the right I’ll end up in the kitchen, which is where I can eat. But I’m not sure how hungry I am. When was the last time I ate? It’s not a good sign if I can’t remember. Of course, if I don’t go up to my room right now and study, it might never happen. My eyes race from the stairs to the kitchen. Stairs. Kitchen. Stairs. And then divine intervention happens. My stomach growls. Kitchen it is.

Our kitchen isn’t small but it’s not gigantic either. What it lacks in space it makes up for in décor. The sunflowers scattered throughout the area brighten the room, making it cheerful and inviting. One corner of the room houses the sink and cabinets. Next come the oven and microwave conveniently stacked on top of each other. The stove was built on top of the island, where my mom spends most of her time when she’s not at work. But I don’t care about any of these fancy machines my mother uses to cook all our food. I care about the pantry. The pantry holds all the snacks, cakes, and macaroni and cheese.

When I was younger I wasn’t allowed to eat any junk food. My snacks consisted of carrots and celery. My mom is a nutritionist and anything with ‘cake’ in the description was banned from our house. I had to sneak my fattening cakes and strudels at school or at a friend’s house. She buys the sugar treats now because my brother and sister have moved out and she doesn’t have to worry about keeping everyone healthy anymore. Her job is done, now it’s time to see if we learned anything. My mom works as a consultant at Marla’s Gym for people who are trying to lose weight, but she’s also a public speaker for certain community classes.

Now my dad is the exact opposite. He likes his sugar snacks and he doesn’t like trying new things. My dad is the all-American dad—steak, mashed potatoes, rock and roll, football, and a tight wallet—but in a good way. He never buys anything new unless it’s broken and he can’t fix it himself. My dad’s thin, dirty-blond hair still sits on top of his head. With age, he’s acquired wrinkles like quotation marks around his eyes when he smiles or laughs but he’s still as strong as an ox. He works as a manager at the Lakeside University book store.

I open the crème cake wrapper and inhale, feeling guilty until the creamy filling melts in my mouth. Mmmm…yum! I follow the cake with chips, and the chips with candy. Before I know it, I’ve gorged myself on so many snacks I’m not hungry anymore. Now I’m sleepy, and all I want to do is lie down and go to sleep. I should have studied first.

Slowly heaving myself out of the kitchen, I retrace my steps back to the stairs. I start hiking upstairs until I realize I left my book bag by the front door. I glance back at the hundred pound bag on the floor and think about the effort it’ll take to lug it up the stairs and then back down the stairs in the morning. I’m not a morning person. In fact, I hate mornings; and knowing I’d have to lug a hundred pound book bag down the stairs would make my morning even worse.

I reach the top of the stairs, swearing to myself I’d study all day tomorrow to make up for the lost hours today. Peeking to the left, I see my old room. My sister and I lived on that side of the hallway and shared a bathroom, while our brother Will had his own bathroom on the opposite end from us. I took over Will’s room once he moved out. Now my room is the guest room, and my sister Dana’s room is the “exercise room.” Only it’s not really an exercise room because it’s full of boxes. It’s really more of a storage room. No one comes upstairs except for me. So, if anyone decides to squat in either of those rooms, no one would know. If the boogeyman exists—he lives there.

I officially freak myself out by thinking about a squatter living down the hall from me and race into my bedroom, shutting and locking the door. After I’m safely behind my locked door, I relax. My room isn’t spectacular. All my furniture is mismatched because I could never decide on a color scheme. If I liked it, I wanted it; it didn’t matter if it matched or not. I have a futon against the far wall that I can maneuver into a couch to make it easier to watch movies when I have guests.

My room has shelves along the left side of the wall which hold all of my precious childhood memories. One of my favorites is a light blue elephant, my dad won for me at a carnival. He spent forty dollars because he was determined to leave with that elephant. Below the shelves rests a white desk and pink chair so I can do my homework without being interrupted or distracted. A gray laptop sits in the corner of my desk, waiting to be turned on whenever I decide to retrieve my heavy book bag.

I never make my bed; I don’t see the point. Why make the bed if I’m going to mess it up that night? A window sits between my bed and my desk. I have a riveting view of the brick wall on the house next door. Not a great sight, but if I go out the window onto the roof I have a perfect panorama of the black sky and bright stars at night.

A couple of hours later I hear the front door open and close and then a big thump. I guess my dad ran into my book bag on his way to his room. Maybe I should have brought it upstairs. My mother comes home a half hour later and starts cooking dinner.

I sit at the table playing with the peas as my mom eyes me and says, “Maybe you’d be hungrier if you didn’t eat all those snacks earlier.”

Sometimes I think my mom is psychic—and then I realize she saw all the empty wrappers in the trash.

“Maybe I wouldn’t have eaten all those snacks if I wasn’t deprived as a child,” I accuse, taking a bite of the chicken breast on my plate.

“You weren’t deprived. You were taken care of. Well taken care of,” she insists with a smile.

“Sure as hell was,” my dad agrees. “Wonderful dinner, honey.”

He wipes his mouth, signaling he’s finished, and stands up to put his plate in the sink. He peeks at my mother before he heads to the pantry and stuffs a crème cake under his shirt on his way out of the kitchen. We hear the recliner groan as he sits down in the living room. My mother stops eating and waits for the crinkle from the wrapper.

“I can hear that,” she yells.

“No, you can’t,” he yells back.

Why is my alarm going off? Isn’t it Thursday? I don’t have class on Thursday. But I do have a painting due next Monday. I yank the clock and the cord flies from the wall as I close my eyes to the silence. Ah, that’s better. Rolling over, I pull the covers up to my chin. Even though it’s March, it still feels like January. My cell phone starts ringing but I ignore it. Two voicemails later I finally get up to see who it is. Missed calls from Tom precede text messages telling me to get up, complete with threats of killing me if I made him late—again. I guess I should keep my promise and drive him to school because I have to go anyway. Yawning at the clock on my phone, I ditch the makeup in order to brush my teeth and pull a huge sweater over my shirt. If I mess this up with paint it won’t matter. I bless myself for not bringing my book bag upstairs. Checking the time I decide to borrow painting supplies from the professor because searching for mine would require time I don’t have.

I pick Tom up right on time.

“Maybe you should have spent a little more time in the bathroom,” he grins after he sees me.

“Maybe you should shut your mouth before I decide where to bury your body,” I snap.

“I’m kidding. I honestly think you look better without makeup. You don’t need all that stuff.”

Compliments like this one make me wonder if he’s hinting at something a little more than friendship, or maybe he’s just trying to be nice. But if he’s trying to be nice then why does it feel so awkward in the car? As soon as I park Tom dashes off to class. I parked closer to his class since he actually has one today; which means I have to walk across campus to get to my painting. I trudge anxiously through campus gazing up at the sky hoping it doesn’t decide to pour down rain.

Midway through my walk it starts to drizzle and I pull out a binder to cover my head. It’s better than nothing—until a gust of wind blows it out of my hand and flips it open as it hits the ground, papers flying everywhere.

Some bystanders help me gather my flying notes—a very nice gesture considering it starts to rain harder. Soon there is only one guy helping me, and we’re both soaking wet. It’s pointless picking up the rest of my notes because the rain has ruined them. The good Samaritan hands me what he picked up. Before I can thank him, he attempts a quick getaway causing him to slip on the wet pavement and almost fall flat on his face.

I hurry over to help him up and as we make eye contact, I shake my head because I—he looks just like—no way.

“Grayson?” I ask, peering under the brim of his baseball cap again as he stares down at his feet.

He tilts his head up slightly and smiles, “Hey Brooke.”

Really? Is that all he has to say? Wow! I shake my head again. Am I really here? I can’t be. I must be dreaming. I storm around him and throw my hopeless mess of notes in the trash.

“Brooke,” Grayson calls out, “Brooke!”

I don’t bother answering him. After all, this is how he wanted it. He didn’t want to hear from me or have anything to do with me after he left for college, so we should keep it that way. It’s better for the both of us.

I hear footsteps behind me and—as soon as I glance back—Crash! I fall backward. Squinting up in the rain, déjà vu bites me in the ass. Alice gazes down at me offering her hand to help me up.

“Look at you,” she says, holding her umbrella tightly. “You’re all wet.”

“Yeah. Guess I should have brought an umbrella,” I grumble shivering.

“There you are Grayson! I’ve been looking all over for you. Have you met Brooke?” she asks Grayson through a clenched jaw. She doesn’t seem as delighted to bump into me this time.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Grayson questions, raising an eyebrow.

“We met yesterday,” Alice answers cheerfully. “Isn’t this nice? We have mutual friends. Since you’re such good friends with Grayson, maybe you’d like to borrow some clothes?”

“Actually we’re not really that great of frie—,” I begin, but Alice decides to interrupt and lock arms with me.

“I have some workout clothes I keep in the car because I usually work out after—after I get done here,” she explains. She plants me on a bench inside of a building I’ve never stepped inside of and asks me to wait for her. Grayson follows her outside and I can tell they are arguing while they stand under an awning.

Is this weird? Because I think it’s weird. In fact, I feel downright blindsided. I bump into Grayson and—Poof!—she’s not far behind. Then she’s offering me clothes, and I can barely remember her name.

While they argue and aren’t paying any attention to me, I pick up my book bag and sneak away. The rain doesn’t help my getaway but I don’t have to worry about getting wet since I’m already soaked. I find my way to the business building and text Tom. He finds me shivering on the floor waiting outside his classroom.

“What the hell happened to you?” he says in a shocked tone while taking off his jacket.

“Th-the rain—my notes—pfff!—wind. Soaked a-and cold. Déjà vu. E-ex boyfriend,” I stutter.

“Um, I think you need to see a doctor because I have no idea how to decode that,” he declares while helping me get out of my huge, wet sweater. He wraps me in his jacket and decides to skip his next class to take me home before my crazy messages worsen.

We both turn to pick up my book bag and I see Grayson walking away outside through the giant glass windows. I point him out to Tom. “Ex-boyfriend.”

Tom puts his arm protectively around me and leads me to the front of the building. He asks one of his friends to sit with me as he goes to get my car. As soon as he rolls around I thank his friend and fall into the car. The heater is on full blast and I try wiggling my toes. I feel nubs rubbing against my shoe and think that’s a good sign. I warm up my fingers and relax in my seat.

“So, someone really was following you around. I thought you were making that up,” Tom speaks first.

“No no no. Well, maybe—but I don’t think it was him. I was on my way to paint when it started raining and my notes flew everywhere, so I was picking them up and people were helping. It started to rain harder, and then this guy was the last one helping me in the pouring rain, and it was Grayson,” I blurt out.

“I thought he went to UTSA,” Tom says.

“He does—or he did. Well, anyway, that’s not the point. The point is the girl I met yesterday… ”

“The one you bumped into?” Tom interrupts.

“Yea, she showed up seconds after I found out it was Grayson.”

“What do you mean found out?”

“It was like he didn’t want me to know it was him. He was trying to cover his face with his hat.”

“And the plot thickens,” Tom concludes, “Whatever happened between you and Grayson anyway? I mean, what’s the big deal? So he’s back home. Who cares.”

“Because,” I stop for a second and take a deep breath before I say it out loud. “He broke my heart.”

I finish telling Tom the short version of the story.

The fucker broke up with me over an email. Not only did he break up with me over an email, he sent it and for two days played along until I actually saw it. Two days and not a word—when I called him or even when I told him I loved him. Bastard!

“And so this is the first time you’ve heard from him in what—like four years?” Tom questions as he pulls into his driveway.


“Wow! What an asshole.”


“You wanna come inside? I can help you out of those wet clothes and make you nice and warm,” he teased as his eyes fell to my chest and I pulled his jacket tighter around me.

He chuckled as he saw my reaction and waved to me from his front door. I drive myself home, run up the stairs, peel off my clothes and stay in the shower until I’m nice and pruney.

When is school going to be over? Where did the week go? It shouldn’t be Wednesday again. I chuck my alarm clock across the room. Damn thing never shuts up. I drag myself out of bed to don on the perfect outfit and put on enough makeup to impress anyone willing to glance my way.

Sooner than later Tom honks his horn in my driveway and I run out the door with one muffin in my mouth and another in my hand. For some reason, Tom’s only hungry if I have food for one, and I’m still hungry after he eats half of it and I get cranky—really cranky. So I’ve learned my lesson and now I bring two of everything when I’m around him. I hop in the car and throw the muffin at him.

“I’m not hungry.” He places the muffin in a cup holder.

“Then sa it fo lata,” I say around my food as I put on my seat belt.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about your dilemma all week.”

“What dilemma? I have a dilemma?”

“Apparently not, but I was thinking about the whole weird girl and Grayson thing. Maybe she’s his girlfriend. Maybe he pointed you out to her one day and she’s been secretly stalking you until she got the nerve to actually meet you,” Tom theorizes, peering at me every once in a while to make sure I’m listening.

I never thought of that. They were arguing. It would explain the odd behavior, and her offering to lend me clothes so she could pry into my life. That also means Grayson has a psycho for a girlfriend. A tiny smile creeps onto my face as the thought sinks in. Grayson has a psycho for a girlfriend. This is kind of awesome.

I pace back and forth as I wait for Tom and Bob to meet me for our daily walk. As soon as both of them are close enough I blurt out, “Can you do me a favor?” to whichever one will answer. Luck was on my side on Monday because Alice wasn’t here, but I have a funny feeling she’s going to try and “accidently” bump into me today. Again. Wednesdays feel cursed.

“Sure,” they both say in unison, then they say, “Jinx!” at the same time and throw some guy punches while I roll my eyes and almost mutter, “Forget I even asked.”

I pull them over to the side so we don’t get run over by any speed walkers. “I need one of you to actually walk me to my class.”

“Is this about the following thing?” Bob inquires, lifting a concerned eyebrow.

I narrowed my eyes at Tom. He shrugs his shoulders. “I thought it was funny at first. We needed something to talk about and we decided laughing at your expense was a good start.”

“What exactly were y’all doing when you thought laughing at my expense was a great idea?” I ask incredulously.

“Funny story, actually,” Bob begins, and they both chuckle simultaneously as if it was planned. “We saw each other at financial aid, and because we all started hanging out this semester, I guess we thought talking while we waited would help the time fly by. Only it was more like crickets singing. So, Tom brought you up and it turned out we had a lot to talk about after that. It turns out you’re the center of our group, the glue of our click, the leader of the band.”

“Okay this conversation is officially weird, and I don’t know if I want to even be near either one of you right now,” I declare and walk away. I’m not sure if I should feel flattered or embarrassed or violated.

“I think she might be mad,” Tom whispers loudly to Bob.

“Nah, ya think,” Bob says in a sarcastic tone.

They both catch up to me, and we walk side by side until I groan. Alice is waiting for me in the same area we tend to always bump into each other, like clockwork. I knew I’d see her again today.

“Is that her?” Bob asks with his eyes popping out of his head.

“She’s attractive,” Tom admits.

“I need one of you to go and distract her while I sneak off to my class,” I insist while hiding behind Tom. I can’t hide behind Bob; hiding behind Bob would be like hiding behind a pole.

“Distraction is my middle name,” Bob brags, swiping his hand along the points of his Mohawk.

I peek around Tom and watch Bob skateboard up to Alice, but she ignores him. He tries to make conversation, and then tries to make her look away by pointing at a building in a different direction, but she doesn’t budge.

“I don’t think it’s going to work,” Tom mutters over his shoulder. “I think you’re going to need a disguise.”

“Oh, forget it! I’ll just talk to the girl,” I pout. Before Tom can turn around to run away, I drag his ass with me, my arm locked with his. Alice sees me from a distance and waves. I search for Grayson, but he’s nowhere to be found. It was obvious from last week’s interaction that Grayson doesn’t want us talking. I mean, what could they have possibly been arguing about if it wasn’t about me? I plaster on my best smile and wave back.

“I thought you’d come this way again. I just wanted to apologize for Grayson’s behavior last week. He probably scared you off with his attitude problem. I put him in his place,” she winks at me. This time, as the corners of my mouth lift, it’s real—a real, one hundred percent, genuine smile.

“That’s okay. I saw my ride and since I was soaking wet, we decided it would be for the best if he took me home. You and Grayson seemed so engrossed in your conversation I didn’t want to interrupt.” I push Tom forward and offer him up like a Christmas ham, “This is Tom. He’s a big time business guy working at a bank.”

Tom tries to hold himself back but I give him a big enough push to land him right in front of Alice. He probably doesn’t want the psycho attaching herself to him. He gives her a half smile of embarrassment and holds out his hand. Alice shakes it and asks, “What bank?”

“CheckBank—the one downtown,” he answers, moving his sleeve up his arm and pretending to check his imaginary watch. “Well, look at the time. I have class. Nice meeting you!”

Tom turns tail and runs. I want to yell “Coward!” and throw something at him, but books are too heavy to make it very far. Bob circles around for a few minutes before giving me the peace sign. At least he tried.

“How close are you to Tom?” she inquires, following me to my class. “I mean, are you good friends? Just share a class? Boyfriend?”

Oh wow! I can’t believe she’s obsessing over this. Maybe I should just tell her I’m not interested in Grayson and let her be relieved. Grayson may have enough to deal with if he’s dating her. She’s so pushy, and asks personal questions and follows his ex-girlfriends around.

“He’s a friend,” I answer in the vaguest way possible.

“You don’t think that—maybe he can get me a job at the bank.” She pauses to read my face, “Do you?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know—maybe.” Not in your lifetime.

“Can you ask him?”


“Do you want to go to the mall this weekend?” she asks as we reach my classroom. I have my hand on the door handle, and want to walk in pretending I didn’t hear her. I close my eyes and let my hand fall to my side. I turn to face her and plaster on another big, phony smile.

“I don’t know. I’m going to be really busy this weekend,” I lie convincingly.

“Can I see your phone really quick?” she asks.

I hand it to her without thinking about it. She dials a number and something in her purse starts ringing. She didn’t—and I just gave it to her—she has my number! She hands my phone back to me and says she’ll text me later. I’m really hoping my jaw didn’t drop.

I sit through class distracted, replaying the scene with Alice in my head over and over again. Why did I hand her my cell phone? I didn’t even ask if she needed to call someone. I probably violated ten safety rules from kindergarten. I quickly highlight something in my book because the professor mentions it will be on the test. Glancing at my notebook, I only find a few sentences. Crap basket! I’m going to have to copy someone’s notes.

As soon as class ends, I start walking toward the library to meet up with Tom. I half expect Alice to pop up again and violate more rules of personal space. Someone from behind me starts walking right beside me and nudges me. I ignore them because there are a lot of people around and I think it’s probably an accident. As the path clears and it’s only the two of us, they nudge me again. I turn my head and catch a glimpse of Grayson’s face before he hides behind his ball cap again. Now I see why Alice is missing. I swivel my head around trying to find her in a tree with binoculars watching us from a distance but I can’t spot her.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” I mumble walking a little faster.

“I need to talk to you,” Grayson says in a low voice.

“Talk and be quick. I don’t need any problems from your psycho girlfriend.”

Grayson smiles, revealing his deep dimples. Damn those cute dimples! His hazel eyes lock on mine and he stops me by grabbing onto my arm.

“Unnecessary,” I hint at his hand. He lets go of my arm and stands there staring at me.

“You’re all grown up,” he compliments.

“I said be quick.”

“I need you to stay away from Alice.”

I didn’t see that one coming. He throws me completely off guard. Should I tell him that his girlfriend is the one stalking me? Does it look like I go out of my way to find the routes to her classes so I can intercept her? All I’ve done is try to avoid her, but I can’t seem to shake her. And yet, he wants me to stay away from her? The plan was to get rid of Alice but now I’m beginning to see the pros to having her around.

“And if I don’t?” I threaten.

He sighs. “Then bad things will happen.”

My conscience begs me to listen, but the devil on my shoulder tells me I can hang out with whoever I want. He also says it’ll be fun to make Grayson angry by doing the exact opposite of what he’s asking. Grayson watches me walk to the library to meet up with Tom.

As soon as I’m in the car, I pull out my phone.

Brooke – I think I might have time to go to the mall on Sunday

Alice – great! I guess I’ll call u this weekend

Brooke – can’t wait


Take me to the next chapter —-> Chapter 2

Can’t wait to finish? Click here to buy the book –> Buy Entangled Collateral


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