Next to Never Page 2

God, I love him. I love all of my family. But each one of them knows how to manipulate me.

None of them would tell me to go. No one will say “Just do it!” or “What do you want to do for your summer, Quinn?”

Jax and Jared assume I’m fine. Madoc wants all of his family around him all of the time. My nieces and nephews are too caught up in their own lives to care what I’m doing, and my parents . . . well, they want me happy. But they don’t want me to make any mistakes, either. Hell, a two-day sex talk preceded my very first date.

But I’m their baby. Their second chance.

Not that there was anything wrong with my brothers. They turned out well. But I gather my parents didn’t have much to do with that, either.

No one knows what I want. No one looks closely enough.

No one except Lucas.

After my shower, I quickly dress in some jean short cut-offs and a gray V-neck and dry my hair. I unclasp the strap of my backpack and slide off Lucas’s baseball cap that he gave me before he left town three years ago. I always carry it with me.

Three whole years, and I haven’t seen or talked to him. After grad school, he moved to New York for a job, but his architectural firm had him assigned to a project in Dubai. He’s been living in the Middle East, for the most part, since he left Shelburne Falls. It doesn’t feel like he is ever coming back.

I know he isn’t technically part of our family, but Madoc had mentored him since he was eight, and he’s been a part of my life since I was born.

After he left, I sat down a few times to write him—letters, e-mails, Facebook messages—but something always held me back from sending them. Like maybe I was afraid he wouldn’t write back.

Maybe, just maybe, he tolerated annoying little Quinn Caruthers and all of her stupid questions while he was stuck here, but now he doesn’t have to anymore. Why should he even bother, right? I don’t fit into his life anymore. He’s twenty-nine now. Important, busy, sophisticated . . .

And he hasn’t written me, either, so . . .

Pulling the light blue Cubs cap down over my eyes to shield the sun, I start the walk to the bike rack in front of the school.

“You know, I still can’t believe that you don’t have a car!” someone shouts behind me as I unlock my bike. “It’s like a thing in our family, Quinn!”

I laugh to myself, recognizing Dylan’s tone. Yes, car-love definitely runs in our family. So much so that one of my brothers—her father—owns a company that designs and engineers performance automotive parts, while another brother runs the town’s racetrack.

Looking over my shoulder, I see her pull up in her dad’s old Mustang Boss 302—which he gave her when he bought his brand new Shelby.

She grins at me through the open driver’s side window.

“Outdoor air pollution is one of the top ten killers on Earth,” I tell her, unwinding the lock from the bars. “Thousands of people in this country die every year due to air pollution, and the best way to decrease it is by walking or riding a bicycle.” I smile, trying to look smug, and stuff the lock into my backpack. “I’m just doing my part.”

“Can you do mine, too?” Kade, my nephew, strolls up and throws his duffel bag into the bed of his truck, chuckling to himself.

“And mine,” his twin, Hunter, says, doing the same. They both must’ve just gotten done with their workouts in the school’s weight room. Bulking up for the junior year football season in the fall.

I twist my lips to the side, disgusted at the gas-guzzling penis-enhancer Madoc bought his sons that won’t make their manly areas any bigger despite what teenage boys like to think. He purchased the big black truck for them in hopes they’d learn to share—and be forced to go places together since they fought a lot.

The pollutants from it are probably strong enough to kill cockroaches . . . underground . . . in Antarctica.

Actually, I’m not that concerned with pollution. I just enjoy riding a bike, because it’s something where I don’t fall in line with the rest of my family, and it gives me an excuse to take longer to get home. More me-time and all that.

Dylan smiles at me, a gentle look in her blue eyes. “I’ll see you tonight, okay?”

I nod and slip my backpack on my back. Pulling out my bike, I hear Kade and Hunter’s truck fire up behind me, and they, along with Dylan, charge out of the school parking lot, mostly empty now since school ended two hours ago.

Climbing on my bike, I push off and pedal out of the parking lot, inhaling the fresh scent of lilacs that carries on the light wind around the school.

I love this time of day, right before parents get off work but after school lets out. The streets are quiet, and the sun is falling to the west. It’s warm, but it’s not beating down on my shoulders and neck like it does during midday. Glimmers of yellow peek through the cluster of leaves overhead, and I speed down streets lined with cars, hearing kids in their Rollerblades playing hockey in a driveway.

Since it’s Friday night, I don’t have to worry about rushing home to do my schoolwork or study. It’s nearly the end of the year, after all. Final papers and projects have already been turned in, final exams are scheduled, and graduation practice is in full swing. I’m in the homestretch.

It’s also Dylan’s big night. In addition to just getting her license and her father’s old car a few months ago, she’ll be making her debut at the track tonight. I have to be there.

But first . . . I cruise around a corner and keep pedaling into the center of town. My hair blows behind me, and I love the feel of the wind in my clothes. I smile to myself, thinking about how the boys keep begging to get me a car, but wouldn’t they just flip their lids if they knew I might actually be interested in a motorbike instead?

Prev page Next page