I have this theory—every guy has a girl who got away.
Woman who got away.
Because that’s what we’re talking about.
Sometimes she’s the pretty, witty teenager who stretched out on the hood of your car and stared at the stars after some douchebag dumped her at senior prom.
Sometimes she’s the one who picked cherries with you two summers ago, her voice breathy with excitement as she extolled the virtues of the ripe, red fruit, her favorite in the world.
As if you didn’t already know how much she loved them.
As if you didn’t know every piece of her by heart.
And sometimes she’s the friend who strolls into your shop on a Friday evening with pie on her face.
Pie you want to kiss off her cheek, her nose, her lips.
When Ruby shows up at my garage looking good enough to eat, a crazy part of me starts thinking maybe this is it. My time. My chance.
But I know better.
It’s not my time. It’s time I gave her the list.
Lists aren’t my thing.
I don’t mean useful lists like pick up bread, call Mom, finish the paperwork that’s been piling up, and hang a kick-ass photo of that 1964½ Mustang you restored in the garage.
Because who wouldn’t want to see that screaming set of wheels sparkling like she just rolled out of the factory? That classy old lady makes everyone, especially her new owner, ridiculously happy.
That’s a good thing—making people happy.
Those aren’t the kind of things I’m talking about.
I’m talking about bigger lists.
See the Northern Lights. Learn Japanese. Run a marathon. Spread kindness without expecting anything in return.
Those type of bucket lists never interested me. Because that’s how you should live every single day.
Give it your all. Leave everything you’ve got on the field every damned game because none of us know if we’ll get to play another.
See the Northern Lights if that floats your boat. Learn Japanese if languages are your thing. Be nice, for fuck’s sake because there are too many mean people in the world and that sucks.
But you know what sucks more?
My sister and I always used to say, Live without regret.
That’s the last thing I want for Ruby—regret. But I can see that’s where she’s headed. She’s in a rut, the dangerous, dream-killing kind. That’s why she needs this list. Now. Before any more time goes by. Before she wakes up ten years from today and wonders what things might have been like if she hadn’t let herself get stuck and stay that way.
Ruby deserves better than that. She deserves every fucking drop of joy she can squeeze out of life.
Because she’s . . . Ruby.
The one who got away.
Except she was never mine.
No matter how easy it would be to fall in love with her, I’ve never let it happen, though I’ve come dangerously close a few times.
But that’s item number one on my “To Don’t” list.
Never ever fall in love with Ruby Valentine.
I’d be the wrong guy for her.
There is no list, no shared experience, and no road trip that can ever change that.
Especially when she learns what I’ve done.
I do not have a crush on Jesse Hendrix.
I have crushes on other things.
Like new watercolor paints.
Ink pens that don’t smear.
Sunsets. Kittens. That pun I wrote in my journal that will be hilarious on a birthday card.
But not my best friend’s older brother.
What would that say about me?
I mean, aside from the obvious—that I have excellent taste.
Jesse is just stupidly gorgeous, the kind of handsome that, once you’re no longer in his presence, your mind insists you must be remembering incorrectly. There’s no way sandy-brown hair, dark brown eyes, a chiseled jaw, and nicely sculpted arm muscles could combine to create the kind of sucker-punch to the ovaries women everywhere experience when they lock eyes with him.
Old or young, looking for love or happily coupled, no matter their race, color, or creed—one look at Jesse and ladies melt into steamy lust puddles at his feet. Even my friend Lisa swore a few weeks ago that if a woman-killing meteor struck Earth, wiping out all womankind, Jesse is the only man who could tempt her to the straight side of the fence.
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