Read Bunches Online

Authors: Jill Valley













Jill Valley






Copyright © 2013 by
Jill Valley



Cover Design © K.C.



This novel is a work of fiction in which names, characters,
places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is completely



All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author.




Table of Contents

Chapter One - Nora

Chapter Two - JJ

Chapter Three - Nora

Chapter Four - JJ

Chapter Five - Nora

Chapter Six - JJ

Chapter Seven - Nora

Chapter Eight - JJ

Chapter Nine - Nora

Chapter Ten - JJ

Chapter Eleven - Nora

Chapter Twelve - JJ

Chapter Thirteen - Nora

Chapter Fourteen - JJ

Chapter Fifteen - Nora

Chapter Sixteen - JJ

Chapter Seventeen - Nora

Chapter Eighteen - JJ

Chapter Nineteen - Nora

Chapter Twenty - Nora

Chapter Twenty-One - JJ

Chapter Twenty-Two - Nora

Chapter Twenty-Three - JJ

Chapter Twenty-Four - Nora

Chapter Twenty-Five - JJ

Chapter Twenty-Six - Nora

Chapter Twenty-Seven - JJ

Chapter Twenty-Eight - Nora

Chapter Twenty-Nine - JJ

Chapter Thirty - Nora

Chapter Thirty-One - JJ

Chapter Thirty-Two - Nora

Chapter Thirty-Three - JJ

Chapter Thirty-Four - Nora

Chapter Thirty-Five - Nora

Chapter Thirty-Six - JJ

Chapter Thirty-Seven - Nora

Chapter Thirty-Eight - JJ

Chapter One - Nora


I breathe because Michael can’t.


Love is what is supposed to swoop
in and save you when you can’t save yourself. Love is supposed to make you
stronger than you are on your own, to give you wings and make your life the
best it can be. But love doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes love is the
most exquisite architect of pain. Sometimes love weighs you down instead of
letting you fly.

Love didn’t save me. It sank me.
It drowned my heart in dark water.

Michael was the love of my life.
He was my very best friend and I have spent five years reliving his death. It’s
easy to do, because I was there that night. It was my fault. Sometimes I let
myself imagine that if I keep reliving his death over and over again, then
someday it will kill me too. A part of me hopes I’m right.

Cold air, colder water. Black
with a trail of white from the moon. I call after him. I don’t know what I did.
I have no idea why he’s angry, and I especially have no idea why he’s run
furiously away after what we just did. I can’t breathe. He always swims and I
always canoe. It’s a thing we do. He swims alongside. He’s never left in the
middle of the night before. I can still feel where he was lying, warm by my

At this moment I still don’t
realize that I’ll never feel him warm by my side again. I see him slash into
the water. There’s so much water. It’s everywhere I look. Did I mention that I
can’t breathe? I yell to him. I cry. I cry and cry. I feel the water coming in
on me, but it’s not just water, it’s suffocating. It’s stealing away the air
and my love, my life. I cry out again. I hurtle into a sitting position,
tearing at the covers that I sleep under, fighting for air.

I wasn’t the one who died that
night, but it felt like I was, because every important part of me, the parts
that it’s hard to keep safe, all those parts died.

As I’m drowning in icy blackness,
hands reach out and grab me. They aren’t warm, but they are strong and
confident. Nothing can be comforting, but I surprise myself, and probably my
savior, by not struggling. The second I can open my mouth I try to order those
hands to get Michael, to save Michael, not me.

Later I will find out that it was
already too late for Michael, that he was pulled out first, by other
responders, but it just didn’t matter anymore.


It’s a warm early summer night
and I’m out with Lizzy, my best friend.

I notice our bartender right when
we come in. The bar is packed and he’s darting around, talking to the other
bartenders, joking with the patrons, and pouring drinks. He lodges in my mind
immediately. He’s tall, probably six feet two, so he can see us easily, and I
can see him rise up to place drinks in front of people, his arm snaking out in
front of him as he leans forward, smiling, his eyes bright.

I don’t usually notice guys. In
fact, I do the opposite. I keep my head down and try to avoid making eye
contact, so I’m a little surprised at myself that my eyes instantly dart to our
bartender. I mean, am I seriously going to have a panic attack my first time in
a bar? With a ridiculously hot bartender there to see? I sure hope not. Lizzy
would kill me.

I feel overwhelmed and
claustrophobic in the extreme.

He has bright blue eyes and dark
hair, and I focus on him in the overwhelming sea of confusion.


He looks calm, if a little tired.
The music blares and I hear laughter and glasses clinking. I breathe a little

Lizzy nudges me in the ribs and I
glare back at her, only to find her grinning. “Spot something you like?” she
teases. I shake my head emphatically.

We have gone from the peaceful
silence outside the bar to mayhem inside. The transition makes me think of what
happened to me after Michael.

I’ve never been to a bar before,
because I just turned twenty-one about a week ago and I’m not much of a
drinker. For the last five years I’ve also been pathologically opposed to
taking risks, so things like fake ids were never going to happen.

In fact, I’ve never even been
close to drunk. I fear losing control - of my body, and more importantly, of my
emotions. I can’t let them out of the stranglehold I’ve had them in for so

But Lizzy has made me come, to
celebrate my birthday. Key word being celebrate. It doesn’t feel like a
celebration, but then nothing much has felt good to me in about five years. The
bar feels stressful, pulsing with unfamiliar energy, but I’m forcing myself to
go along with Lizzy’s plan.

I clench my fists at my sides and
watch the bartender’s dark head turn. He’s talking to a person here, giving
another person a drink there. He’s young. A beacon of calm. Just stay calm. I
look down at the floor and wonder how often it gets swept. Once a day? Maybe
twice? I’m wearing black ballet flats, and I wiggle my toes, feeling them press
against the tops of my shoes one by one. I take another deep breath. I can’t
keep staring at the bartender. He’ll notice, then I’ll blush and trip over

But I look up again anyhow and
see him talking to one of the other bartenders. I breathe again, a great big
gulp of air. My first real breath since I came through the door.

With the bar packed and loud, and
he’s one of the only people here who appears to be concentrating instead of
laughing uproariously.

I glance at my friend,
concentrating on the only face I’m familiar with. Lizzy is a friend from high
school, and although we attend different colleges now - mine is in upstate New
York while hers is in Boston - we’ve both ended up in Portland for the summer.
Neither of us can bring ourselves to go home to our parents’ places, and this
is our compromise. It’s only a two-hour drive to Boston, but it feels like a
world away. There’s a rugged politeness about the place, a down-home, let’s
buckle down and get stuff done feeling that I’ve never truly been able to
identify with myself, that I like about the place. It’s much different from my
mother’s fast-paced insistence on success. What the hell is so wrong with just
existing quietly?

Unlike me, Lizzy is the type of
girl that has no problems. She’s gorgeous, her family is perfect and wealthy,
and she has a boyfriend who adores her. Lizzy’s parents were high school
sweethearts, her brother is a senior at Dartmouth, and she has a plan to go to
law school. Her boyfriend, Steven, dotes on her. She says he knows how good he
has it, and she’s not even being cocky. Sometimes I wonder why we’re friends,
because she wants lights and action, and my life is SO not like that.

I always forget what it’s like to
go somewhere with Lizzy between times when we’re together. She has blond hair,
blue eyes, and a rack I’ve envied since middle school. Part of why Lizzy and I
are a striking pair is because I have dark brown hair that falls loosely over
my shoulders and pools in the crook of my elbow, and what have been described
as “milky” brown eyes.

Unlike a lot of my college friends,
Lizzy knows my secrets. It’s easier to breathe with her, because she
understands what I can and can’t do. Why I’m so cold. It’s the only way I can

Lizzy grabs my arm and propels me
toward the bar. I avert my eyes from the young, good-looking bartender, but
it’s hard.

We find the last two seats at the
bar. I place my hand on the back of the chair to give myself a physical brace
against the likely emotional onslaught of the night. I feel the wood under my
fingers and press my hand down. The solidness is comforting.

From underneath my lashes I
follow his movements. He’s a bartender and he’s gorgeous. Girls’ eyes follow
him wherever he goes. He doesn’t appear to notice, but still, there might as
well be a neon sign over his head that screams trouble. Hell, who needs a sign?

Clearly he knows what he’s doing.
And I so do not.

I slide into my seat, still
feeling infinitely uncomfortable.

I don’t belong here is
the mantra that keeps repeating
in my head. The trouble is, I don’t know where I belong, and I’m not going to
figure it out sitting at home. At least that’s what Lizzy told me when she
decided we were going out.

“Are you okay?” she yells into my

“What?” I yell back.

“Okay?” She raises her eyebrows
at me.

I nod.

I wonder how I’m supposed to
behave. I’m used to eating out at restaurants, but this is different. People
are standing close. I shrink nearer to Lizzy, who’s a bar expert.  She’s six
months older than I am and has probably had her fake id since before we were
even friends.

She grins and nudges me. “This is
fun,” she gushes.

Lizzy tried to convince me to get
one too, but I ended up crying at her that I had already done enough wrong in
my life. She looked at me, helpless. I still remember that look. It’s how I
know we have a true friendship. We’ve gone through enough bad times for me to
know that even when I’m at my worst, she’s still at my side. You can’t find
that stuff out if everything is always rosy and you never fight. She has always
told me that I just need to find a guy I feel that way about, and also want to
have sex with, but I’ve mostly blocked that conversation out.

Heat comes into my face as I
notice three guys sitting in a row at the bar. I do my usual - I avoid eye
contact. I can’t handle eye contact. Guys read stuff into eye contact, but
there’s nothing to read into with me.

I’m a hollow shell. I barely
exist at all.

I notice guys swivel their heads
around to catch a glimpse of us. They’re just looking at Lizzy anyway. She
always attracts piles of attention, but she’s had the same boyfriend since high
school, Steven, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to get married. Steven is
head over heals for her and Lizzy is always faithful, but she loves to flirt.
Steven was best friends with Michael, but that was a long time ago.

Lizzy leans forward, her low-cut
top revealing an expansive chest. She smiles at me and her eyes brighten. She
already took a shot before we came out, so that she’d be “happy.”

“I have no idea,” I yell back
when she asks me what I want.

“Want me to tell the bartender to
bring you a few things to try?” she asks.

I shake my head. “No way.”

Under no circumstances do I want
the bartender to know that I have no idea what to drink at a bar. Under no
circumstances do I want to “try” a few things when I have no tolerance for
alcohol. I can’t get drunk in front of the gorgeous bartender; that would make
tripping in front of him look like a walk in the park.

I take a deep breath and look
down at my slightly shaking hands.

“Menus?” a deep voice asks.

The bartender I was looking at
has come over. I snap my head up and stare at him wide-eyed, feeling awkward.
All thoughts of breathing have disappeared, but for an entirely different reason.

Lizzy reaches out and plucks one
of the menus he’s offering out of his hands.

“Thanks, handsome,” she says with
a wink. Lizzy is a hopeless flirt.

I go back to studying my hands
like I’m about to take a test on their smooth curves and delicate veins. I peek
through my eyelashes to see his reaction.

He smiles and nods, still holding
the menu out to me. I take it, feeling better when my fingers close around the
hard plastic that covers it. He walks away quickly and I glue my eyes to the
words, but I don’t really understand what I’m looking at.

“Order beer,” Lizzy encourages
me, but I just shake my head. She’s nearly bubbling over with excitement. She
knows everyone is looking at her, and she loves it.

“No way,” I say. It was my new
favorite phrase for the night. “I don’t like the taste.”

“What about a rum and coke? You
like coke.”

“I don’t know if I like rum,” I

“There’s only one way to find
out,” she says, smiling.

When the bartender comes back
around the corner, Lizzy just has to look at him and he comes over.

“They don’t like to be called
over,” she explains out of the side of her mouth.

I sit back in my chair, giving
myself a little room between my body and the bar, and order my shoulders to
relax and my heart to stop beating wildly. Normally I avoid crowds like it’s my
job, because all I see is judgment when I’m with people. It doesn’t matter if
none of these people know what I did. I feel like they do, and it makes it hard
to breathe.

When the bartender comes back
over he looks at me, right at me, but Lizzy starts talking.  I mostly see
chest. He rests his hands on the bar. She orders some beer I’ve never heard of
for herself and a rum and coke for me.

You know when you see someone you
find attractive and you have all these conflicting emotions? Does he think
you're cute, too? Does he know you're blushing? Can he see that you have giant
feet and huge pimples all over your face? Can he tell that you are pulled to him
like gravity, like the earth pulls the moon? And that there is no one else in
the world? I feel flushed just thinking about him, and I’m not even looking at
him. I’m awkwardly staring at my feet. Because of course I have to be awkwardly
doing something.

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