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Broken Beautiful Hearts(6)
Author: Kami Garcia


“Reed?”

“Hold on, Peyton.” Reed says something to the person in the background. I only catch bits and pieces of his end of the conversation. “He’s early.… Did he bring everything? I’m coming.… Give me five.”

I’ll count to ten and then I’m hanging up.

I’m on six when Reed gets back on the line. “Sorry. I’m training a new guy. He doesn’t have the drills down. So the letters went out? Are you worried you won’t get one?”

“I already did. Something my boyfriend should know.” The excitement of telling him is completely gone.

“I told you my phone died.” An edge creeps into his voice.

“We should talk later.”

“Don’t hang up. I’m being an asshole.” Reed’s tone changes completely, and now he sounds sweet. “I’m sorry. You said you got a letter. From where?”

“University of North Carolina. The coach wants me to play on the women’s soccer team.” Part of me still can’t believe it.

“I knew you’d get in.” He sounds excited. “You can fill me in tonight and we’ll celebrate at the party. Meet me at my place at nine. The guy I’m training is waiting. I’ve gotta go.”

“Reed—”

“I’ll see you at nine. Love you.” He hangs up without waiting for me to say it back.

* * *

I’m still annoyed when I get to Reed’s a few hours later, and I’m definitely not in the mood for a party. As I walk up to the building, my phone pings with a text from Tess. She already left for the party with Lucia.

sperm donor called. go easy on Reed.

Any chance of Reed having an epiphany about the state of our relationship is gone now. The Sperm Donor is how Tess refers to their father. He gets drunk and calls once or twice a year to lay into one of them—usually Reed.

The fighter, Reed “The Machine” Michaels, owes at least part of his success in the cage and the underground fights to his father. Reed has eighteen years’ worth of rage churning inside him, and his father’s calls fuel that fire. It’s hard for me to imagine how he feels. All the memories I have of my dad are good, and the few memories Reed has of his father are terrible.

I take my time climbing the stairs to the apartment. Should I bring up the call if Reed doesn’t? When I reach the third floor, I hear voices coming from inside an apartment.

“I gave you all the extra money I had, like I do every month,” Reed says.

“I know,” his mom says. “And I wish you didn’t have to.”

“You sure about that?” he demands.

“Do you think I like asking you for help? It’s the last thing I want. But I’m short on the rent.”

“I just told you that I don’t have any more money. What the hell do you want from me?” He shouts so loud that it makes me jump.

I’ve never heard Reed yell at his mom or Tess. Even when I argue with him he always stays calm. Pissed off, but calm.

“Now you’re gonna cry and make me feel like shit?” Reed asks. He’s not yelling, but his tone is intense. “I’m out of here.”

I back away from the door just as it opens, and Reed charges out of the apartment. He almost walks into me but catches himself. He glances from the apartment to me and seems to calm down. “How long have you been out here?”

“A few minutes.” My throat is so dry I barely get the words out.

He closes his eyes for a second and takes a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have done that. Shit.”

I touch his arm. “What happened? I’ve never heard you yell at your mom before.”

“Because I don’t.” He turns away and paces the hall. “My piece-of-shit father called. He was drunk, as usual. Talking shit about how we ruined his life. I said I don’t know how we could’ve ruined his life when he never sees us.”

“What did he say?”

“Not much. It pissed him off and he hung up.” Reed takes a deep breath. “Tess left for the party, and as soon as she was gone, my mom started complaining about how she can’t make rent. Asking if I could work extra hours when I’m already working as hard as I can. I just lost it.” He glances at the door as if he’s considering going back inside. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to apologize to your mom? I can wait out here.”

“Not now. She needs some space.” He takes my hand and leads me toward the stairs. “I’ll drive.”

I look back at the apartment door, imagining Mrs. Michaels crying on the other side. Why isn’t he going back inside to apologize?

We get in Reed’s car and for a few minutes neither of us says a word. The houses get larger and more opulent the closer we get to the party.

Reed steals a glance at me. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you earlier today.”

“It’s fine.”

“No, it isn’t.” He reaches over and rubs the back of my neck and smiles. “You got into UNC. That’s a big deal. I’m really proud of you.” His mood does a complete one-eighty, as if the scene back at the apartment never happened.

“Thanks.” I’m not sure how to react. Reed’s moods have been all over the place lately, but I’ve never seen him shake a bad one this fast.

“Like I said earlier, we’re gonna celebrate tonight.” He squeezes my shoulder, and I give him a weak smile.

“If you really want to celebrate, let’s go somewhere by ourselves. I’m not in the mood for a party.”

Reed frowns. “I need to get out of my head, you know?”

“And you can’t do that alone with me?”

“Sure. But sometimes it’s easier when there’s a lot going on. We can go out tomorrow night, though. Is that cool?”

It’s not cool. Not even a little.

But I’m not in the mood to argue. “Sure, whatever.”

“Don’t be mad.” He turns into Quail Landing, the wealthy neighborhood where high school students throw parties and let strangers trash their homes whenever their parents leave town.

“I’m not mad,” I lie. We talked about the offer from UNC for all of two minutes.

My perfect day doesn’t feel so perfect anymore.

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