“What do you mean, you’re not?” “Can we talk about this later, Jake?” Mom sighed. “Please?” “Not if we’re going to be eating ice cream with her in five minutes!” “I want cho-c-c-olateeeeeeee!” Mitch interrupted, throwing his hands in the air. I knew he was acting like some character he saw in a TV show – for a while he’d wanted to be SpongeBob – so I was even more annoyed. “It’s not my story to tell,” Mom said, nodding. “Amy will tell you when she’s ready. I can’t make her talk to you, hon.” “Can you at least tell me why she suddenly hates me?” “I think we both know the answer to that, Jake.” She took Mitch’s hand and started to walk out of the building, motioning for me to follow. I opened my mouth to say something but she gave me a look that told me to drop it. I groaned and reluctantly stayed with them. I didn’t have my car, and I didn’t know anyone here. There was no way I was getting another ride. “Is your seatbelt on, Mitch?” Mom asked when we were in the car, Mitch in the backseat. He gurgled some sort of response – he had a juice box and couldn’t talk clearly – and she took off out of the parking lot towards Coldstone. “So you’re really not going to tell me anything?” I whined, like a little girl. “Why do you get to know and I don’t?” “I know because Amy told me. You don’t know because it hasn’t been any of your business until now.” She turned onto the street Coldstone was on quickly, nearly taking out a curb. “That doesn’t seem fair,” I said, continuing to pout. Mom shrugged. “I know.” I huffed and crossed my arms, feeling like a teenage girl on a reality TV show. “Whatever.” Within a few minutes of silence – aside from Mitch’s random singing in the back seat – we made it to Coldstone and pulled into the handicapped spot. Mom didn’t like that we’d been given a permit to park there, because none of us had any disability that made us unable to walk, but she used it anyway because parking lots were constantly full. That way she didn’t have to worry about Mitch getting hit by as many cars as he could have if we always parked in the back. Mom slid the back door of the minivan open and Mitch jumped out, finishing his song with a dramatic hand motion. He grinned and took Mom’s hand, skipping off towards Coldstone while I stood next to the van grumpily. I’m going to get an expensive bowl of ice cream, just to piss her off. I smiled without humor and followed in Mom and Mitch’s footsteps, excited to see Mom’s reaction when she saw how pricy Coldstone’s ice cream was. She was going to be pissed at herself for suggesting to go here, and I was going to subtly revel in that fact. The door creaked as I opened it, and I noticed Mom and Mitch sitting in the corner immediately. Amy was with them already, and so was her dad. I tried to ignore the fact that his face lit up noticeably when he saw me, but it wouldn’t leave my head. His dad reminded me so much of Mitch. I wondered if that was how Mitch was going to be in forty years. “What’s this?” I asked when I saw that they all already had their ice cream. It felt like I was only gone for a minute, but apparently it had been much longer. “There wasn’t a line, so we ordered. I wanted to get you vanilla, but Mitch said your favorite was chocolate. I didn’t want to get you something you wouldn’t like.” “You’re both wrong,” I mumbled. “I like strawberry.” Mom shrugged, trying not to be hurt by my curt response. Luckily Mitch wasn’t paying attention or I would’ve felt even worse than I already did. “It’s fine, though,” I added, trying to make it sound better. “Can I borrow some money to buy something?” “Of course, honey.” Mom dug out a ten from her purse and handed it to me, giving Amy one of her looks. My stomach clenched uncomfortably when I saw Amy start to stand up, so I decided to bolt over to the counter to order. There was no way Amy would try to talk to me in front of all those people. “Can I get you something?” a girl I recognized from school asked from behind the freezer filled with ice cream. “Yeah, a large strawberry sherbet.” I felt a small smile creep up on my lips. This girl was probably a Sophomore or a Junior and I knew it would be easy to make her melt in front of me. “Would you like any toppings on this?” “Nah, I’m good,” I replied, smiling suggestively. “Hey, don’t you go to my school?” She blushed, walking over to the cash register. “I think so,” she answered quietly, trying not to smile. I, Jacob Benson, the quarterback of the varsity football team, had just recognized her. Of course she’d be excited. Not to sound conceited or anything, but who was I kidding? I handed her the ten my mom had just given me and she took it with shaky hands. After she handed me my change, I grabbed my ice cream and winked at her. Her eyes widened in pleasant surprise and I almost busted out laughing at how happy she looked. I couldn’t lie, I loved the attention I got from girls. I wasn’t going to complain about that. I took a huge bite of my sherbet and started walking back when I noticed Amy standing behind me. Of course, I knew she was going to be there, so I didn’t act surprised. “Can I help you?” I asked blankly, trying to seem innocent, with my mouth full of strawberry goodness. “We need to talk.” I paused and took another bite, waiting for her to speak. She sighed and started walking towards the door, looking back at me to see if I was following. I couldn't even enjoy my overpriced sherbet or the satisfaction of spending my mom's money. My feet moved themselves, I swear. “Jake,” Amy mumbled, sitting herself down on a bench outside of Coldstone. “Yeah?” “I’m sorry,” she whispered, putting her head in her hands as I sat down next to her. “For punching you.” “Yeah, about that. Why exactly did you deck me in the face?” She bit her lip, staring at the ground. “Can I ask you something?” she asked, so soft it wasn’t even a whisper, completely avoiding my question. I sighed and nodded, rubbing my eyes tiredly. I was getting sick of her dominating all of our conversations. “What would you do if you lost your brother?” I did a double take and took in a breath. Why would she ask that? Why would she make me think about something like that? “Why?” I asked loudly, resisting the urge to stand up from the bench and leave. When she didn’t respond, I answered, “I’d go crazy,” my voice getting stronger as I continued speaking. “I’d lose it. I’d be a mess. I love Mitch. I love him so G-damn much, Shepherd! What, did you think I didn’t?” “Of course not!” she replied, quieting her voice down when people started to look at us. “Jake, I felt the same way about my brother. But he’s dead now. He’s gone. Nothing can bring him back, and it’s because of me. That’s why I asked you what you’d do if you didn’t have Mitch anymore. To know that I'm not alone." I blinked away the tears that had started to form when I thought about losing Mitch. I wasn’t surprised that I’d started to cry – losing him would’ve killed me, and I wasn’t afraid to admit that. It was my job to take care of him, and if I lost him, it would’ve meant I’d failed. I was more surprised at her response to my reaction. “What happened?” I asked, even though it didn’t sound like a question. “He died in the crash that made my dad the way he is,” she worded softly. “He died because I made him sit in the front seat. He was too short… I should’ve known that. The air bag killed him. I… I killed him.” “You can’t blame yourself,” I mumbled unemotionally, blinking. “Come on. Let’s go for a walk.” I held out my hand to help her up and she took it shakily, releasing it after she was on her own two feet. “I have every day for two years,” she whispered as we wandered around the corner. She put her arms around herself like she was worried she was going to fall apart. “Nothing’s ever going to change that, Jake.” I let out a breath sadly and tossed my half-full sherbet bowl in a nearby trash can. I wasn't hungry anymore. “Do you want to know the real reason I hit you?” she asked quietly, continuing once I nodded. “You make me happy. When I’m with you, I laugh. I smile. I’m not always thinking about my dad or my brother or my mom. When I’m with you, I’m not alone anymore.” I scrunched my eyebrows. “And that’s a bad thing?” “Yes,” she whispered. “I’m happy when I’m with you, Jake... And I don’t deserve to be happy.” “Oh, come on,” I started, shaking my head. “Don’t feed me that. You know your brother wouldn’t want you to be depressed all your life. You can tell yourself that’s the reason you’re not happy all you want, but you and I both know that you only say that because you don’t want to take the risk!” I stood there with my mouth open, breathing heavily. I don’t know what had come over me, why I was suddenly yelling at her. The guilt overwhelmed me when I saw her face. “I-I’m sorry,” I mumbled, glancing at her apologetically. “I shouldn’t have said that.” She swallowed loudly and stared at me, on the verge of tears. “You’re right,” she whispered. “I relive that crash and remember my brother every time I see my dad. But that’s not the reason I can’t be with you. I can’t be with you because I don’t want to get hurt…” “Why do you think I’m going to hurt you?” I panted. “Can’t you see that I’m crazy about you?” “You shouldn’t be,” she murmured. “It’s in both of our best interests for you to just forget about me right now.” “You know I can’t do that,” I sighed, running a hand through my hair. I was furious at myself for admitting that I wanted her. I wanted to hate her. But some joke God played on me made every cell inside of my body scream for her. I hated myself. I’d only gotten to know her a month ago, but for some reason, everything I did made me want to be with her even more. She stopped and turned towards me, holding up one of her hands like she wanted a high five. She just stood there, holding it up. Confused, I reached to give her one, but stopped before our hands touched. We held them a few inches apart until I slowly laced our fingers together, keeping them suspended in the air. I chose to ignore the fact that I realized the reason she had her hand up was to block the blinding light from one of the streetlamps. “I’m not perfect,” I mumbled, shaking my head as she tried to pull away. “I can’t guarantee that I’m never going to mess up or make you want to hate me. But I want to be with you, Shepherd. I can’t explain why, so don’t ask. For the past month all I’ve done is think about you.” She sighed. “You’re making my hand sweaty.” “That’s all you have to say?” I groaned, throwing my hand down out of hers. “I just spilled everything to you, and that’s what you tell me?” “What do you want me to say? That I feel the same way? Because I do!” She paused and took in a deep breath, her voice still loud. “I want to hate you, but all I want to do is kiss you. I want to run away and never come back, but then I want to stay with you! Do you understand how confused my emotions are? Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel like this?” “Of course I do – I feel the same way!” I replied, my voice carrying as much as hers had. “I just want to be with you! I want to hold your hand like this and talk to you and go places with you. I want Mitch to have you in his life, because he loves you. I want my mom to stop worrying about you, because I know for a fact she worries more about you than she does about me. I want you, Shepherd. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to get you.” “You want me even though I’m crazy?” she whispered, her voice so soft compared to mine. “You’re not crazy,” I sighed. “You’ve been through a lot. I’d be the exact same way.” “Regardless,” she began, shaking her head, “you have to know that I’m not going to be like any of the girls you’ve been with before. I won’t know what to do all the time, and it’ll most likely be you hating me...” A small tear rolled down her cheek as her voice broke and I wiped it away with my now-free hand. I’d begun to notice that Amy cried a lot, which was something I was going to have to get used to. “But you make me happy,” she murmured softly, placing her hand back in mine timidly. “So if you want to deal with me, then I’m holding you responsible.” I laughed shakily, squeezing her hand tighter when she tried to loosen her grip. “I will,” I mumbled, putting my free hand on her hip. “Then so be it,” she sighed and leaned into my chest, looking up at me despairingly. I glanced down at her and half-smiled, wrapping my arm around her tighter as she instinctively pulled away. Slowly, I leaned in and pressed my lips to hers, running my fingertips along her side. And this time she actually kissed me back.