"I just..." It's all I can manage to say at this point.

"You just what?" He asks.

"I just put on clean panties," I complain.

He lets out a satisfied laugh at that. "My apologies. I wasn't aware of your underwear situation."

I return the seat to a sitting position and rub the sweat off my face and neck.

"So where are we going?" I ask.

"A place you should've been already."

"Oooo, cryptic. You know cryptic answers doesn't make you sound insightful, right?" My annoyance is thick. I don't know why I'm upset but I just am. It's like he thinks I'm a child.

"Not a child," he interjects. "Just lost." He glances over at me with a warm smile. I can feel a sense of calm washing over me.

"Are you making me calm?" I accuse him.

Yes, I am, he says in my head.

"Don't do that," I say. "I want to feel what I feel."

"You're upset. Being upset is never helpful."

"It is to me!"

"Why are you upset?"

"I...I don't know. I just am!"

I feel a buzzing in my body, like a vibration that soothes my nerves. I let out a satisfied moan. In a voice of calm serenity I mutter, "I hate you."

My eyes become heavy and I start to drift off. The hum of the car mixed with whatever is happening to my body makes me feel like mush. I don't really understand what I was so upset about. I feel my eyes shut for only a moment and then I hear him.

"We're here!" He announces.

Just like that the buzzing inside me is gone and I'm jolted back to reality. I sit forward and look around, trying to figure out where I am. We're parked on some type of college campus.

"Sorry about that," he says. "I wanted the destination to be surprise, so I put you to sleep."

"Where are we?" I ask.

"Rutgers," he says as if it's obvious.

I blink at him. Why the hell did we drive to Rutgers?

"We have an appointment with an admissions officer.

"Admissions? I'm not applying to Rutgers."

"Why not?"

"Because..." But then I realize I don't have a reason why.

"You're very negative. Do you know that?"

His voice is so level, so clam, like he's stating a fact.

"Do you want to go to college?" He asks me.

"Well..." I do. If just to appease my parents. But also because I feel left out. I feel like not going was just another Haley failure. Everyone else I know moved away and are doing big things and I was left behind like a loser. So yeah, "I do," I say.

"Good," he says with finality. "Then lets go." He unbuckles his seatbelt and opens his door.

"Was that you just being polite again?"

Without looking back at me I hear in my head, Now you're catching on.

We both start walking down a path toward a large building made pretty much of windows. It looks new, fresh, exciting. We enter the building and head to an elevator bank. When in, he pushes a button. It looks like he knows exactly where we're going.

Well of course I do. I wouldn't bring us here if I didn't know where we're going.

"You can just speak to me, you know? You don't have to speak in my head."

He looks at me with a smirk. "It's impolite to hold conversations in the elevator."

The doors open to our floor and he's out before I have a chance to say anything. I follow behind him, looking around at the students that pass feeling self-conscious. I know I shouldn't. They probably just think I'm another student, but I know I'm not. We get to a room and he walks right past the receptionist.

"Can I help-" She calls out to us as we pass. I look back and see she sits back down, a smile on her face, her legs clamped tight and a look of pleasure on her face as she closes her eyes. I hope she goes to the bathroom and doesn't stay there. I know the feeling and it's not inconspicuous.

We enter one of the offices. Ethan just barges in and a middle-aged man sitting at his desk looks up startled. The look of surprise is evident through his large glasses. He stands up and flattens his brown tie.

"Can I help you?" He demands.

I look to Ethan, letting the man know I have just as much information as he does.

"Mr. George Patterson, correct?" Ethan aks, extending his hand.

He shakes his hand. "Yes. How can I help you."

"I want to discuss the prospects of my friend here attending your university. You are an admissions officer, am I right?"

George looks flustered as he sits back down, trying to make sense of the situation.

"Yes, I am. However, I don't usually meet with prospective students."

"Yes I know," Ethan says as he sits down in the chair in front of the desk.

Take a seat next to me, he says in my head. I scamper over to the seat next to him and sit down.

"I'd like to introduce you to Haley Anderson." He turns to me. "Haley, this is Mr. Patterson, admissions officer here at this prestigious institution."

I awkwardly extend my hand to the man. We shake and he returns his attention to Ethan.

"You see Haley decided not to attend college for the fall semester for certain personal reasons," Ethan explains. "But now she is ready to begin. In the spring."

"The spring?" George asks surprised. He shakes his head. "Well unfortunately it's too late to apply for the spring semester. We are accepting applications for next year though. She's welcome to apply for that."

Ethan settles into his chair, a smile on his face I've seen one too many times already.

"Mr. Patterson, we both know there is a special circumstance acceptance that allows students to begin in the spring, is that right?"

The room becomes warm. George's eyes become slack, the calmness starting to take hold.

"Yes, there is a special circumstance acceptance," he confirms, his voice no longer sounding like his own.

"And you make the decision as to whether someone can apply for that, am I right?" Ethan asks.

"Yes. I do." George answers mechanically.

"Perfect!" Ethan feigns excitement. He turns to me. "I knew we were in the right office."

What are you doing, I think.

What I do best, he responds in my head.

He turns his attention back to George. "So, Mr. Patterson, what does someone need to do in order to apply for that?"

"They need to fill out an application and submit it with their high school transcripts, their SAT scores, the application fee, and a letter of hardship."

"Yes, the letter of hardship. Explain to Haley what that is."

George turns his vacant expression to me. "The letter of hardship is your opportunity to explain to us why you are not applying under normal circumstances. You are to explain your situation and why you believe you will make a good addition to the student body."

"Now George," Ethan cuts in. "Back over here." He gestures with his fingers for George's attention. "Haley had decent grades in high school, didn't you?" He turns to me.

"Uh...yeah. I did."

"See," Ethan says back to George. "You shouldn't have a problem with her transcripts and application. So that just leaves the issue of the letter of hardship."

"Yes, the letter of hardship," George eerily repeats.

"If Haley writes a letter of significant quality, you will accept her to the school starting in the spring semester."

Ethan doesn't say it as a question but rather as a command.

"Yes," George confirms. "I will accept her to the school if she writes a quality letter of hardship."

Ethan turns to me now. "There you go. The challenge has been laid down."

"The challenge has been-" George starts to repeat.

Ethan cuts him off. "No no, that was between her and I."

George stops speaking.

"It looks like you have some work to do," Ethan says to me.

"Why are you doing this?" I ask.

"Because everyone deserves a second chance. All you need is a little confidence Haley. Believe in yourself. Don't hold yourself back."

I think about this for a moment and glance at the man sitting behind the desk. His glassy eyes, the look of a mind no longer running behind it.

"You're going to make him accept me into college?" I ask.

"No, no I'm not." Ethan corrects me. "I'm going to make the man consider your application. Believe me, this guy hates the special circumstances acceptance. He normally doesn't let anyone apply for it. I'm going to make him do that. However, your on your own when it comes to the letter. Write a good one and he'll accept you, but if you don't, he won't and I'm not going to change that. Understand?"

I nod, a panic starting to build deep inside me. Ethan looks me in the eye.

"You will not feel panic about this," he says. "You will be calm and clear headed."

Suddenly I feel my nerves begin to calm. I don't know what I was worried about.

"Yes," I answer. "I will be calm and clear headed."

"Good! Now lets go." Ethan stands up and holds his hand out for George to shake.

George seems to wake back up, startled by our presence in his office. He shakes Ethan's hand.

"I'll let you know when Haley's application is ready," Ethan says.

"Uh...thanks," George answers. "I'll be waiting." His voice sounding like his again.

We make our way out of his office and past the secretary. She breathing heavily, trying to avoid our eyes with a look of confusion but satisfaction. She didn't go to the bathroom. I hope she wasn't too loud.

So I have a chance to go to college. All I have to do is write a letter as to why I deserve to go. The problem is I don't deserve to go. I don't deserve anything.

Ethan abruptly stops and backs me up to the wall. He stands over me, looking down.

"You deserve everything. Do you understand me?"

"I deserve everything," I say.

"I am not going to force you to think that. You're going to have to learn it for yourself." He says sternly.

"I understand," I respond, a little fearful from his forcefulness.

He turns and continues walking.

It's time for you to go home. You have some work to do, he says in my head without looking back.

I guess I do. I'm not sure what I'm going to say, but I guess the result can't be any worse than where I am already.


We went back to his place so I could get my car, and then he sent me on my way. It was very cold, as if he was dismissing someone he didn't know. I don't know why it's affecting me so much but I feel like something has been lost in the pit of my stomach. I spent most of the day being upset with him for reasons I don't know, but now I feel a longing for him. I just want to please him. I've only known him for a day, I shouldn't be this connected to him.

Maybe he's making me think like this, I think to myself.

I wait for a moment to see if he's going to respond but he doesn't. Is he even listening at all?

I get to my house and walk in the door. My dad is on the couch watching TV. He doesn't look up when I enter. As soon as I close the door, Erin comes down the stairs, an eagerness to her step. She looks around me before slumping her shoulders and turning her eyes to me.

"Is he here?" She asks.

Oh God, I think. Does she have a crush on my...on Ethan.

"No, just me," I say lamely back.

"Who was that guy? How do you know him?"

"What guy?" My dad asks from the couch, finally noticing me.

"A friend picked me up earlier," I say.

"A friend?" Erin teases. I decide not to indulge her.

"You know I don't like boys being here when I'm not home," my dad says.

"He wasn't a boy," Erin chimes in. "He was a man." Her smirk infuriates me.

"What's this?" My dad asks, now turning his body to face us.

I roll my eyes and stomp off before this turns into something bigger. I hear my dad calling after me but I ignore him, retreating to my room and closing the door. It's only a few moments before the door opens again and Erin falls onto my bed.

"Tell me all about him," she says.

"I met him at the party last night."

"He was at the party? Isn't he a little old to know your friends?"

"Well, not at the party. I left and ran into him walking back to my car."

She smiles and rests her face on the palms of her hands, kicking her feet in the air behind her. Sometimes I forget how young she really is. Fifteen is still a child.

"There's something about him, isn't there?" She asks like she's in a teen movie.

You have no idea, I think.

"You should bring him over more," she says.

"Why? What do you think he's going to do with you?" I accuse. The girl who gets everything wants to take him now?

"I don't know, we could talk."

"Dad would kill you for 'talking'."

I sit down at my desk and open my laptop. If I'm going to get this essay written, I should start now. I don't know why but I have a feeling I'm not going to see Ethan again until it's finished.

"I'd love to 'talk' with him," she says.

"He'd go to jail for 'talking' with you, Erin. It's not gunna happen."

"Seriously though, we should all hang out together. It'll be fun."

I swivel around in my chair to face her.

"I have some work to do, so could you like...not be here?"

Now she looks offended. "What work do you have to do?"

"I have to write an essay."

She's about to say something mean, I can tell. I know her moods and the faces that proceed them. But then something seems to change in her. Her face softens.

"Okay Haley, I'll give you some space." She gets off the bed and walks to the door. "I love you."

It takes me off guard. I've never heard her say that before. Erin and I don't have the most loving relationship. It takes me a moment before I can respond.

"Yeah. I love you too," I say.

She smiles and closes the door behind her.

Weird, I think to myself.

I sit in front of a blank Word document watching the cursor blink for so long that it starts to look like a middle finger flashing back and forth. I hate writing, I've never been very good at it. You're always supposed to open up and share something private about yourself. Why would anyone want to do that? This whole world is full of judgmental people all looking for a sign of weakness. The best way to keep blood out of the water is to never cut yourself.

But then I think about the last twenty-four hours. I let Erin see a guy I have...something with. I've never shown my family anyone I'm interested in, worried they might tease me or disapprove. But she didn't. She seemed happy for me. It wasn't something she had over me now. Is it possible that most of the interaction I have I'm just looking at from the wrong perspective?

My fingers touch the keyboard and I type the first words. Dear Mr. George Patterson.

I stare at the screen. Where do I start?

I write to you in application to your university under the special circumstance / hardship exception. My circumstance is one that I've never articulated out loud before, mainly due to the fact that I'm embarrassed and frightened to admit it. My circumstance is this: I'm lost.

I stare at the last words for a moment.

I'm lost.

I am a person without direction. I used to think that was because I just wasn't worth anything. That I was a useless person. I write to you now to declare to you, myself, and the world that I am a worthwhile person. I am a smart and capable person who can do great things. All I need is a place to find my way. What I need is your university to help me find the path to prove my worth, and I promise you that I will.

The words start flying out of my mind and on to the screen. I don't know if what I'm writing is good or even coherent but it feels like something has opened up inside me that I just need to get out. I type and type and the more I do, the more powerful I feel. I'm unstoppable! I am Haley Anderson and you will know who I am!


It's been a couple of days since my manic essay session. When I was done I read it through once for grammatical errors and then emailed it off. Ever since then I've felt great! I don't know why, but I swear it had something to do with writing that essay. I've wondered if Ethan is doing something to me, making me feel good or something like that. I've driven to his house each day since I last saw him but he's never home. I suppose it can't be him if he's not around. But it's also troubling that I haven't seen him. That twenty-four hour stretch with him was one of the weirdest experiences of my life and yet, I can't stop thinking about him. Ever since I wrote that essay, if I think something negative about myself I see him in my head telling me I'm wrong. I can tell it's me thinking of him. It's hard to explain but when Ethan is speaking in your head, you know it's him. My thoughts just feel different.

As I sit on my stool at the kitchen island drinking my coffee, I wonder if I'm going to see him today. I'll keep going to his house forever until he shows his face again. Erin walks in mid-yawn.

"Morning, Hale," she says.

"Morning, Er."

The two of us have been best friends since the other day. She hasn't asked about Ethan, we've just been talking about anything and everything. It's like we're sisters!

"What are you up to today?" I ask.

"Hanging out. You?"

"Going to Ethan's."

She smiles. "Tell him I said hi."

"Should I say that or 'Erin wants to have your babies,'" I tease.

"Shut up!" She yells and laughs. "You're the one that wants to have his babies."

I nod my head back and forth as if to say, you got me there.

The two of us laugh some more until I finish my coffee. I say goodbye and head out to the car. The drive over is all too familiar now. I think I've driven this everyday since that party. For some reason I'm tense. Well maybe not "for some reason". I know why. I'm hoping he'll be there. Why has he abandoned me?

God, listen to me, I think. I sound so dramatic.

That's never been a trait of mine in the past. Whatever, I am what I am. That's the new Haley speaking.

I turn down his street and pass the house of the party from the other day. I should probably call Rachel and Tia at some point. God knows what they think of me. To be honest, I really don't care. I don't think they were ever really good friends to me. When I see his house I feel my heart rate pick up. I park on the street in front of his house and get out. It looks the same as I've seen it every day. I don't know what will make today different from the last. As I walk up to the front door, I hear the latch turn. My heart is now about to leap out of my chest. As I reach the landing, the door opens and there he is, standing in his doorway smiling at me.

"Hello Haley," he says, his voice as calm as always.

"Hello, Ethan. Long time no see."

He smiles and nods. "Yes, I'm sorry. Would you like to come in? We need to talk."

Oh no. We need to talk. The line every girl dreads.

Please don't be worried, I hear him say in my head.

As always, I feel a warmth envelop me that causes my heart rate to slow down. My body starts to become calm.

Thank you, I think.

Of course he knows I'm referring to the calming sensation. Of course, he responds in my head.

He sits me down at his kitchen table and takes a seat opposite me. Why is he sitting so far away?

"How have you been the last couple of days?" He asks.

I nod. "Good. Really good. I feel..." I don't know the right word to use.

"Strong?" He offers.

"Yes. Strong. I feel strong."

"I'm proud of you. You've done a lot in a short period of time."

Hearing him say he's proud of me makes my heart leap. I've made him happy, which in turn makes me happy.

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