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November 9(11)
Colleen Hoover

“Fallon O’Neil?” he says, this time from the doorway of my closet. “Will you go on a date with me tonight?”

I sigh and look down at my boring clothes. “What the hell am I going to wear to the Chateau?” I look back at him and make a face. “Couldn’t we have just gone to Chipotle or something?”

He laughs and then steps into my closet, pushing past me. He sifts through the clothes in the back of my closet. “Too long,” he says as he scoots hangers over one by one. “Too ugly. Too casual. Too dressy.” He finally stops and pulls something off the rod. He turns around and holds up a black dress I’ve been meaning to throw away since the day my mother bought it for me.

She’s always buying me clothes in hopes I’ll actually wear them. Clothes that don’t cover up my scars.

I shake my head and grab the dress from him, hanging it back in its spot. I grab one of the few long-sleeved dresses I own and I pull it off the hanger. “I like this one.”

His eyes fall to the dress he initially picked out and he pulls it off the hanger and shoves it at me. “But I want you to wear this one.”

I shove the dress back at him. “I don’t want to wear that, I want to wear this.”

“No,” he says. “I’m paying for dinner, so I get to choose what to stare at while we eat.”

“Then I’ll pay for dinner and wear the dress I want to wear.”

“Then I’ll stand you up and go to Chipotle.”

I groan. “I think we’re having our first fight as a couple.”

He smiles and holds out the hand with his dress of choice. “If you agree to wear this dress tonight, we can make up right now in this closet.”

He’s relentless. But I’m not wearing that damn dress. If I have to play the honesty card, I will.

I release a frustrated sigh. “My mother bought me that dress last year when she was going through her ‘Let’s fix Fallon’ stage. But she has no idea how uncomfortable it is to be in my skin. So please don’t ask me again to wear that dress, because I’m much more relaxed in clothes that don’t show too much skin. I don’t like making people uncomfortable, and if I wore something like that, they would feel weird looking at me.”

Ben’s jaw tenses and he looks away from me, down at the dress in his hands. “Okay,” he says simply, dropping the dress to the floor.


“But it’s your own fault people feel uncomfortable looking at you.”

I don’t even hide my gasp. It’s the first thing he’s said to me all day that’s made me feel like I was being spoken to by my father. I’m not gonna lie. It hurts. My throat feels like it’s swelling shut, so I clear it.

“That wasn’t very nice,” I say quietly.

Ben takes a step closer to me. My closet is small enough as it is. I certainly don’t need him standing even closer. Especially after saying something as hurtful as he just did.

“It’s the truth,” he says.

I close my eyes, because it’s either that or stare at the mouth delivering such hateful words.

I exhale a calming breath, but it catches when his fingers brush the hair in front of my face. The unexpected physical contact forces me to squeeze my eyes shut even harder. I feel so stupid for not forcing him to leave, or in the least, pushing him out of the closet. But for some reason, I can’t seem to move or speak. Or breathe for that matter.

He pushes the hair away from my forehead, running his fingers through it until it’s no longer hanging in my face. “You wear your hair like you do because you don’t want people to see too much of you. You wear long sleeves and collared shirts because you think it helps. But it doesn’t.”

It feels like his words are turning into fists and punching me directly in the stomach. I pull my face away from his hand, but I keep my eyes closed. I feel like I might cry again, and I’ve cried enough for one stupid anniversary.

“People don’t feel uncomfortable when they look at you because of your scars, Fallon. They’re uncomfortable because you make people feel like looking at you is wrong. And believe me—you’re the type of person people want to stare at.” I feel his fingertips graze my jaw and I flinch. “You have the most incredible bone structure, and I know that’s a weird compliment, but it’s true.” His fingers leave my jaw and trail up my chin until he’s touching my mouth. “And your lips. Men stare at them because they want to know what they taste like, and women stare at them out of jealousy because if they had lips the color of yours, they’d never have to buy lipstick again.”

I release what might be a cross between a laugh and a cry, but I still don’t dare look at him. I’m stiff as a board, wondering where he’s going to touch me next. What he’s going to say next.

“And I’ve only met one other girl in my life with hair as long and beautiful as yours, but I’ve already told you about Abitha. And just so you know, she doesn’t hold a candle to you, despite being a great kisser.”

I feel his hands come up and push my hair behind my shoulders. He’s close enough that I know he can see the exaggerated rise and fall of my chest. But my God, it suddenly got really hard to breathe, like I’m ten thousand feet higher above sea level than I was five minutes ago.

“Fallon,” he says, commanding my attention. His fingers meet my chin, and he tilts my face upward. When I open my eyes, he’s a lot closer than I thought he was. He’s looking down at me with a pointed stare. “People want to stare at you. Believe me, I’m one of them. But when everything about you screams, ‘Look away,’ then that’s exactly what people are going to do. The only person who gives a shit about a few scars on your face is you.”

I want so badly to believe him. If I could believe everything he’s saying, then maybe my life would mean a whole lot more to me than it does right now. If I believed him, maybe I wouldn’t be so nervous about the idea of auditioning again. Maybe I would be doing the exact thing my mother says a girl my age should be doing: finding out who I really am. Not hiding from myself.

Hell, I’m not even dressing for myself. I dress in what I think other people would prefer I wear.

Ben’s eyes fall to my shirt, and for the first time, I notice his lungs are pulling in air with as much effort as mine are. He lifts his hand and fingers the top button on my shirt, popping it open. I suck in a quick breath. His eyes never leave my shirt and mine never leave his face. When he moves his fingers down to the second button, I could swear he pulls in a shaky breath.

I don’t know what he’s doing, and I’m terrified he’s about to be the first person to see what’s beneath this shirt. But for the life of me, I can’t find words to stop him.

When the second button is freed, he moves down to the third. Before he flicks that button loose, his eyes lift to mine, and he looks just as scared as I feel right now. Our eyes remain locked until he gets to the last and final button. When it’s loose, I look down at my shirt.

Only a sliver of skin is showing over my belly button, so I don’t actually feel exposed yet. But I’m about to, because he slowly lifts both of his hands to the top of my shirt. Before he makes his next move, I squeeze my eyes shut again.

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