Authors: Lisa Burstein
Tags: #friends to lovers, #entangled publishing, #new adult romance, #pretty amy, #Temptation, #ever after, #relationship in question, #college, #parties, #New adult, #novella, #lisa burstein
The Next Forever
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
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Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Cover design by Jessica Cantor
Manufactured in the United States of America
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following word marks mentioned in this work of fiction: Dumpster, Madden Football, Frisbee, Girl Scouts of America, Target, Botox, Hershey’s, Twitter, X-Box, and Vaseline.
To my editor Stacy Cantor Abrams, for more reasons than I can list.
“So is that a yes or a no?” Joe asked, a smile struggling to come to his lips—sunshine fighting through heavy gray clouds. He had just asked me to move in with him starting fall semester. I should have smacked my dining hall tray from the table and climbed across it to kiss him like we were on a plane going down, but all I could do was stare at my tray and run the tines of my fork over my uneaten mashed potatoes.
Part of me did want to reach for him, but something else was keeping me in my seat, playing with my stupid mashed potatoes like a child.
“Sure,” I said, because I was afraid to say anything else. I didn’t want to hurt him, and what I really wanted to say,
I don’t know
, would have.
He sighed so hard it could have blown me over. He didn’t believe me. He knew me too well to believe me.
“We’re back to this,” Joe said.
“What?” I asked, trying to pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about.
Joe shook his head. “You’re doing it again.”
The thing that had made him write me off our sophomore year in high school. The thing that got me arrested—as in, might go to
—two years later.
“Amy,” he said, his hazel eyes glued on my tray as he assumed I was ignoring him. But I wasn’t. I was pausing him, pausing myself. Trying to keep us in the perfect place we had been before we got to college.
When he was my hero and I was a girl who needed one.
When I knew he was real, true, and mine.
He still was, obviously, but now when I thought about us, my head felt like the mushed-up mashed potatoes on my plate.
He took a bite of his burger, a few crumbs from the bun falling on his navy blue polo. A month ago, I might have wiped them away. A week ago, I might have.
Now, I watched them pile up like snowflakes. Now, I wondered if anyone else in the dining hall would tell him. I wondered why I didn’t bother to tell him.
Maybe because now we were more than friends, it also meant we were less. As the friends we used to be, I would have been able to talk to Joe about the guy in my life who had unexpectedly asked me to move in with him. But now that he
that guy in my life, I was too afraid to.
Joe put his burger on the plate and put his hand on mine, stopping the design I was making in my mashed potatoes: four perfect lines, over and over again on top of one another, till they weren’t perfect anymore.
“It’s okay,” he said. “We can talk about it later. Forget I asked.” His hand was there, blanketed on top of mine, just like it had been the first time we kissed. The first time I knew he was the only one I could count on. I let myself feel the pause. Be the girl who needed rescuing, even if I wasn’t sure I was anymore.
We were at college an hour away from our small suburb of Collinsville, New York. The town we grew up in, the town SUNY Geneseo was supposed to let us leave behind, but with Joe sitting across from me at every meal, standing next to me at every party, walking with me to most classes and sleeping in my bed every night, it was hard to leave Collinsville behind.
It made me wonder if I really wanted to.
And now he’d asked me to move in with him. If I said yes, no matter how much I wanted to be able to, there was no going back. This was a problem, because I already felt myself wanting to turn into the girl I used to be. The girl he was talking to when he said,
You’re doing it again.
Maybe that girl would always be there.
I picked up his hand and kissed it, sealing that time and space. Making it a place I could return to and remember if things between us got bad, like I feared they might.
I went back to my mashed potatoes, determined to flatten them, to cover every inch of my plate with them.
“Are you mad?” he asked. Joe knew that even though I had just kissed him, there was something else there. I couldn’t hide from him, just like he couldn’t hide from me.
His hands started to shake as he waited for my answer. He gripped the table, trying to make them stop. They weren’t shaking because he was upset. That was just what they did. That was his thing he might never be able to leave behind.
I watched him, his eyes looking through me the way they could because he’d known me for so long, as close to forever as I could count. “No,” I said, staring at his eyelashes, enviably long.
“Are you happy?” he asked, assuming that if I wasn’t angry I must be happy. Even-tempered Joe, the Joe I loved. The Joe I wished I could crawl into a glass bottle with like a boat, so we could spend forever corked off from everyone.
Everyone—especially the boy who seemed determined to smash that bottle to pieces. Trevor.
I looked past Joe’s head, his brown hair that always reminded me of the shelves in a pantry, a color that makes you feel comfortable and full. I let the sound of the dining hall fill my ears. Trevor sat alone at his table, strumming on a black electric guitar and making notes on a pad.
Trevor’s blond hair fell in his face and he pushed his bangs back, showing off a wrist covered with leather cuffs.
I felt my mouth open, like I was trying to talk to Trevor in the same way he was trying to make music with his guitar—with no sound coming out.
Trevor usually worked behind the food line in the dining hall, wearing a funny paper hat that I could tell he wanted to light on fire at first opportunity, but that night he sat alone just strumming on his guitar. I was surprised he was even in here, but I guess a guy had to eat.
I knew his name because he usually wore a name tag along with his paper hat. I’d noticed him because I saw him putting uneaten rolls in his pockets when he cleaned up the tray bin. I’d figured they were for him, but then one day I saw him using them to feed the seagulls that hung around like groupies near the Dumpsters.
As dumb as it was, that was all it took. Well, and the fact that he looked like a naughty girl’s wet dream. I liked him, more than a girl with a boyfriend should like anyone.
“You want to go to the library tonight?” Joe asked.
“Um,” I said, stalling. I didn’t want to go to the library. I was doing fine in my classes— sure, they were a potpourri of humanities, but I was doing fine in them. I didn’t need to go to the library, not like Joe did. He was pre-law, which, given my delinquent history, should have bothered me a lot more than it did. But Joe relished his classes. I knew he would make a great lawyer. He was so honest and fair and
So everything I was not.
“You don’t have to come,” he said. He was trying to hide it, but I could hear him sighing again.
“It’s just… It’s Friday night,” I said.
He looked down, noticed the crumbs on his shirt, and wiped them off. “Well, what do you want to do?” He smiled his Joe smile, the one that turned my stomach to melty goo.
Made me want to leave the bad girl I used to be behind.
He touched my forearm, waiting for my answer. I sensed the familiar heat that could make me forget being the bad girl and make me want to just be
“Maybe you should skip the library,” I whispered, leaning over my tray, my face inches from his.
“I could come over later,” he said, his smile still there.
He said this every day. Usually I responded yes, because I wanted to say yes. I’d gotten a room without a roommate just so I could say
. So I could scream it in the dark with my chin perched on his naked shoulder.
But he was putting me off, as close to rejecting me as I knew Joe could stand. I deserved it for the way I’d responded when he asked me to move in with him, but I also couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe it was time for me to say yes to something else.
“If I’m around,” I said, testing him.
“Where else would you be?” he asked, his chair screeching as he rose. He came around to my side of the table, his tray held out in front of him. He kissed me good-bye, lightly, lingering on my lower lip.
I wished I could pause that moment, too, but he was gone from the table before my eyes were open.
I watched him walk his tray up to the bin, letting two girls wearing Crew sweatshirts go in front of him because that was what Joe did. He was good; he was nice.
He really thought he’d fixed me.
I wasn’t really going to the library. I knew Amy well enough to know she would say no when I asked.
I needed her to say no.
Asking her to move in with me had been a different story. It was a really stupid thing to ask, but fear and anxiety had gotten the better of me. I knew if things went as planned tonight, everything would be different tomorrow.
I guess I wanted to do my best to be sure
I went over my introduction in my head as I made my way across campus to the TKE house, the sunset dripping among the leaves on the trees like melting sherbet.
My name is Joe Wright. I’m a freshman, pre-law. I like volleyball and Madden Football and I have a girlfriend.
I was still deciding whether I should leave out that last part. Mentioning her could make it seem like I was pussy-whipped. Even if I did sort of feel like I was sometimes, it wasn’t something I wanted to readily admit, especially to another guy.
Especially another guy I was trying to show off my guyness to. A room full of potential frat brothers I was trying to show off my guyness to.
Amy would have hated that I was rushing a fraternity. That was why I had to lie. She couldn’t have thought too highly of them, considering what she said about sororities—that they were clubs for all the bitches from high school to teach them to be bigger bitches. I guess she would have said that frats were clubs for all the jocks from high school to teach them to be bigger jocks.
But I’d liked being a jock in high school—playing volleyball with my friends, having my hands do what I told them to was never a bad thing. I’d liked a lot of things before I’d liked Amy.
I missed those things. I was hoping that joining a frat might let me have some of them back. Besides, if I didn’t start getting some quality guy time, I was afraid I might start growing boobs.
But I also really do like Amy. Love her. We had a history together. A long one. Growing up across the street from each other will do that.
Asking her to move in with me had been my insurance policy. I should have known it would scare the crap out of her, though. I mean, it scared the crap out of me. When the words had left my mouth, they didn’t even sound like I was saying them. I regretted it immediately, not just because of her face, but also because if she’d said yes, I would have to do it.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I just didn’t want to lose her. With what I was about to do, I easily could.
Amy was always a friend and nothing more until prom night, but seeing her strapless dress, her bare shoulders, her clean gray eyes had stunned me. Changed me. It was scary to think it was only a few months ago. Scarier to think that it seemed like she wanted to turn back into the girl she was before that night.
I would never let that happen again. Hopefully I would have time to deal with that later, tomorrow.
Hopefully I hadn’t ruined everything already.
I stood on the porch of the frat house. It was huge, white, and the lights on inside made it look as though it were lit up like a birthday cake.
I didn’t want to think about Amy hating me for doing this, so instead I thought about her shoulders, how seeing them so soft and freckled wrecked me like nothing else. A couple guys came up behind me and I remembered I’d been standing on the porch with my hands in my pockets.
I heard them laughing. They knew each other, must have walked over together. They were trying their best to drink the cans of beer in their hands and pockets before they got inside.
“Hey, you want one? If I drink any more, I’m going to piss myself.”
I turned and found two guys dressed just like I was: khakis, sneakers, and polo shirts—one red and one light blue. It was an unwritten rule during rush that you dressed up. This was clearly as dressed up as any guy was willing to get without a girl making him.
“Sure,” I said, thankful to have a little bit of liquid courage in my stomach before I walked in.
The one in red passed it over. His friend in light blue stood next to him watching, like he was waiting for me to open it to make sure I wasn’t a narc or something. Considering we were all dressed like narcs, I wasn’t sure why he was so suspicious.
I popped it open, the familiar hiss of good times.
They both held up their beers, and the guy in red said, “To TKE, hot girls, and minimal scarring.”
I laughed and took a long drink. It felt good to laugh, felt good to drink.
“Is TKE your first choice?” I asked.
“Hell yeah,” Red Shirt said.
“You’d have to be a total ass-bag for it not to be,” Light Blue said.
I was glad at least I wasn’t a total ass-bag.
“Well, I hope we all make it, then,” I said.
“They only take twenty percent of the rush class,” Red Shirt said.