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Broken Beautiful Hearts(7)
Author: Kami Garcia




Little Black Box

THE FACT THAT I asked Reed if we could spend time alone tonight and we ended up at a kegger sums up the current state of our relationship.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?” Reed holds out a plastic cup. “It’s your night. We should toast your acceptance.”

“But you’re not drinking,” I say. He never drinks the night before a fight.

“I’ll toast with this.” He holds up the can of Coke he’s drinking.

“That’s okay. We can celebrate next week at Bourbon Steak.” It’s our favorite restaurant downtown. We made a reservation weeks ago just in case I had college news to celebrate.

“Is that next week?” he asks.

I know what’s coming. “Yes. On Thursday night. It will be nice to spend some time alone.”

He puts down the plastic cup. “About Thursday. I’m working late. But you can pick another night.”

“It took weeks to get a reservation. You can skip one night at the gym.”

“I wish I could.”

He’s bailing on me. Again.

“Forget it. I don’t want to go anymore.” I’m not trying to guilt Reed into changing his schedule. I mean it.

“I thought you’d be in a better mood tonight.”

“I was until you bailed on me for the tenth time.”

“Hi, you two.” Tess enters the kitchen, her cheeks flushed and her hairline sweaty from dancing. She twists her hair into a knot, studying us. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I cross my arms and watch a guy beer-bong a six-pack.

“Peyton is pissed off because I wanted to come to the party,” Reed says.

Was he paying any attention to our conversation?

“I’m not pissed.” But I’m getting there.

“You look pissed,” Tess says.

“I’m annoyed, and it has nothing to do with the party.”

“Right.” Reed exhales loudly. “She’s mad because I can’t go to dinner on Thursday. I’ve gotta work.”

“You didn’t even remember we had plans.” When did I become the girl who begs her boyfriend for attention? And how fast can I get rid of her?

“That’s not—” he says, but I cut him off.

“I don’t want to argue. It’s one stupid dinner. It doesn’t matter.”

Reed’s phone pings and he reads the incoming text. “Hold on.”

Sure. Why not? It’s not like we were having a conversation or anything.

Reed wanders away from us, focused on whatever he’s typing. Without looking up, he holds up two fingers and says, “Give me two minutes.”

“More like twenty,” I say loud enough for him to hear.

If he was actually listening.

Tess nudges my shoulder with hers. “I know Reed is a pain in the ass sometimes, but tonight it’s not his fault. He’s always a little off after the Sperm Donor calls.”

She’s probably right, but over the last two months, making excuses for her brother has become Tess’ full-time job.

“It’s not about whether or not he loves me. Something is going on with him, and it’s not just the phone call. Something changed. He’s different.” I didn’t realize how much until I heard him yelling at his mom.

Tess stares at the floor.

“Whatever it is, go ahead and say it,” I tell her.

“Maybe it’s not Reed.”

How can she play dumb with me? I’ve seen the way Tess tiptoes around him like she’s navigating a minefield when he’s in one of his moods.

“So you think I’m the problem?”

Tess shakes her head. “No. That came out wrong. I meant maybe it’s things between you two that changed. You’re upset because Reed is at the gym all the time, but he has to train more if he’s going to fight in the middleweight division.”

“It was his idea to move up a weight class,” I remind her.

“I know. I tried to talk him out of it. But he thinks he has a better chance of making it into the UFC as a middleweight.”

“It’s more than that.” We’re missing something. I lean against the wall and watch a new beer bong competitor get into position.

This is not how I envisioned celebrating my big news. I reach for my phone to check the time, wondering if it’s too early to head home. But it isn’t in my pocket. Nothing but lip balm, house keys, and Reed’s car keys. God forbid he carry anything except his phone. I pat down my coat. “I lost my phone.”

“It’s probably in the car, like the last three times you lost it. I need to run to the bathroom and then I’ll help you find it,” Tess says.

The line for the bathroom is six people deep. I can’t wait that long. “All my voice mails are on it.”

Tess knows that by all I really mean one—the last message from my dad. It’s the reason I’ve had the same phone for a year and a half, even though it barely holds a charge.

“I bet it’s in the car,” she says. “Don’t worry.”

“I’m just going to run out and check.” I leave through the back door.

Outside, a stone retaining wall snakes down the hill beside the house. The wall separates a paved footpath from the long driveway. My arm scrapes against the rock as I rush toward the steps at the end of the walkway that lead down to the street.

Reed parked his car across from the steps, and I can’t get it unlocked fast enough. I search for my phone in the front seat and between the crevices of the center console.


Think. Retrace your steps.

When we got in Reed’s car I tossed my jacket in the back seat. My phone could’ve fallen out of the pocket. I lean between the front seats and grope around.

Come on. Please be here.

What if it’s not?

My chest tightens. I can’t lose Dad’s message.

Reed’s car is full of junk—hand wraps, sparring pads, sweaty T-shirts, and empty energy drinks. His smelly gym bag is open on the floor. I dig through it until my fingers hit something rectangular and smooth.

A box.

I take it out of the bag, expecting a cheap plastic box like one Reed uses as a first aid kit. But this box is glossy black cardboard, like a gift box.

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