Title: The Stillness Before the Start
Author: Jennifer Ann Shore
Genre: Young Adult Romance
I’m Harper Reed. The valedictorian. The scholarship kid. The girl next door. The obsessive planner.
I have big dreams and secrets, but against my better judgment, Dylan Archer is the one I confide in.
He’s the rich kid with the world at his fingertips. The sworn enemy of my best friend. The one who hides behind an arrogant smirk. The track star who wants to run away from reality.
We’re not in the same social circles or even capable of being friends, but when he asks for my help, I agree without considering the consequences. It’s a reckless decision that has the potential to start something neither one of us can stop.
“No way,” Serena laughs. “Dylan Archer over James Lawson any day.”
Her argument isn’t really a surprise—she and Dylan have been on and off for as long as I understood what it even meant to be somebody’s girlfriend.
She’s tall and sleek, the perfect combination for executing all of the jumps that make me chew on my nails in nervousness as I sit in the stands during James’s track meets.
“James is the kind of boy you bring home to your parents, ready to settle down and be seen with in public,” she continues, watching him run his hands through his hair. “Dylan’s the kind of guy that you, well, have for everything else.”
Both girls erupt into quiet laughter and drop off into quieter conversation that I can’t hear.
I sink back against the wooden chair and sigh.
“It’s a little bit of a broad generalization, but I’ll take it,” a cool, bored voice says.
My head snaps up so fast, I’m surprised my neck doesn’t break.
Dylan stands tall between a row of bookshelves and seems very amused at how he caught me off guard.
Finally, after a full week, I manage to drive him and his staring out of my mind, only to have him actually talk to me.
“What do you want?” I ask, wanting to cut to the chase.
That’s not how Dylan plays, though.
He treats human interaction like a sport. It doesn’t matter if he’s dealing with a girlfriend, a teacher, or one of the few people I think he considers friends.
There’s no affection. It’s all ego and manipulation.
And I can’t figure out what he wants with me.
My question goes unanswered, and it’s unnerving to me that he has the upper hand in whatever this is.
I feel vulnerable and defenseless, sitting at the edge of the room with all my belongings on display, so I tear my hair from the messy bun on top of my head and let the curls loose.
It’s a terrible shield, but I instantly feel better.
As much as I want everything neat and organized, I’ve spent seventeen years unsuccessfully attempting to tame my wild hair, and for once, it’s a benefit.
“Did you just try to block me out, Reed?” Dylan laughs quietly. “Using frizz as earmuffs? Hilarious.”
“Are you going to tell me what you want?” I ask.
The two words are so light when they come off his lips that I have to make sure I heard him correctly.
Asking someone for help.
I can’t do anything other than turn back around at that, but he’s already on the move.
He stalks over like a predator and takes the seat across from me. The table is a buffer, and I grip the edge like it’s all I have left as a defense against him.
“I’m asking for the third and final time, Archer, what do you want?” I try my hardest to match the balance of nonchalance and venom that I know he has perfected over the years, but it comes off as an uncomfortable groan.
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re not happy to see me?” Dylan asks with mock disappointment.
I look at him.
Really look at him for the first time in a long time.
He’s grown into his height, filled out with long and lean muscles that are no doubt from the miles of running he does each week. His dirty blond hair is swept back off his forehead today, increasing the sharpness of his cheekbones and the severity of his brown eyes.
Dylan Archer is the picture perfect eighteen-year-old.
But there is one flaw on his porcelain skin, a small scar below his eye, and it’s because of me. I, as a fourth grader, did something completely reckless and a little violent—I punched him.
From across the playground, I watched him argue with and make fun of James before hurling insults at me when I approached, and I had enough.
Audrey had just taken up tae kwon do, so part of the blame is on her for insisting on teaching me her moves in our living room. And also, to be fair, I was aiming for his nose but ended up driving the hard plastic on my finger—from my finished Ring Pop—into his cheek.
At the time, James was mad at me for fighting his battles for him, but I refused to let Dylan drag me down with him. These days, we laugh about it whenever James is particularly annoyed at him.
There’s the hint of a mark, long ago healed, below his right eye. It’s rounded on one end but stretches out to a line on the other, sort of like how I’ve seen meteors drawn.
I wonder if he sees it every time he looks in the mirror—which I imagine is quite often.
But now he is putting his ego aside, which must be difficult to do from the sheer size and weight of it, to ask me for help.
I’m equal parts cautious and curious, but the latter wins the battle in my conscious mind.
I sigh. “How can I help?”
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