Before Hadley

By: J. Nathan



He didn’t see me watching from the corner of the leather sectional in Katie McGraw’s living room. But I’d been watching since he walked through the front door almost an hour before. No, I wasn’t some creepy stalker. I’d just lived in the same Georgia town since birth, so I knew everyone. Everyone but him.

He was new, which made me curious. I could sense he wasn’t like the guys around town by his relaxed swagger. By the confidence he exuded when he walked into a room full of strangers. By the ease in which he lifted his red cup to his full lips, guzzling his beer like it was a sport. By his tolerance of all the eyes on him and the people approaching, feeling the need to introduce themselves, especially the girls.

He didn’t notice me tucked into the corner with my cup filled with warm beer. But why would he? I tended to blend into the scenery. I’d been graced with wavy blond hair and a skinny body I didn’t have to work to maintain. But besides that, I was painfully average. I’d had my fair share of boyfriends over the years. But after going to school with most of the guys since kindergarten, a relationship with any of them lacked that spark I’d read about in books and seen in movies. Hence, my curiosity with the new guy.

The fact that he could’ve been the world’s biggest douchebag didn’t stop my body from shamelessly reacting the moment he’d walked through the front door, my heart tripping over itself with interest.

That was definitely new for me.

But I wasn’t like Katie, party-thrower extraordinaire. She slept with anyone who looked her way. And, as I sat in the corner milking my beer, her skanky hands roamed all over the new guy’s chest. And while he may not have been shirtless, he might as well have been. His navy shirt displayed the width of his chest and the sculpted indentations underneath, while his short-sleeves made it impossible to miss the defined lines and hollows in his biceps. He wasn’t too tanned or a faux-surfer like the locals. Just the opposite. His dark hair was short on the sides and shaggy on the top, like he just rolled out of bed unconcerned with how it looked.

Then, like clockwork, Katie grabbed his hand and whispered something in his ear that garnered one of the biggest grins I’d ever seen. Had she not been giving him the eyes, the ones that said, “You’re so getting laid,” I would’ve melted into a pile of goo right there because it was breathtaking. Truly breathtaking.

But I should’ve known. Guys were physically incapable of saying no to a willing female. And Katie was always willing. She tugged on his hand and led him all too readily upstairs. I’d been to enough parties at her house to know the only rooms upstairs were bathrooms and bedrooms.

What a freaking disappointment.

My hormones clearly weren’t in tune with reality. Because in reality, he was the type of guy my father warned me about. The type who drew too much attention. The type who caused girls to become irrational. The type who became bored easily. And while I might’ve been eighteen, I still listened to my father. Who’d argue with a police detective who’d been profiling people since the start of his career? He assured me more than once, when the truth stared you right in the face, believe it.

I pushed myself up from the sofa and maneuvered around the bodies milling about the kitchen. I dumped my beer in the sink and headed onto the deck to refill my cup with cold beer from the keg. I pulled in a deep breath, the cool March breeze a welcome change from the stagnant air inside.

“Hey, Hadley.”

I glanced over my shoulder at Zack Banes, captain of every team at school and one of my biggest mistakes. Sadly, I let him get to second base at a party last year. Not one of my finest moments. But since then, he made it a point to get my attention whenever we ended up in the same place. Which, unfortunately, happened often given the small size of Jacobsville.

“Wanna do a keg stand?” he asked from the corner of the deck.

I shook my head with a smile, as if I actually appreciated his offer, then turned with my filled cup and headed for the back door.

“Did he really think you’d agree to that?” a familiar voice asked.

My head jerked to my right. Michelle, my next-door neighbor, stood by the deck railing wearing a grin. I laughed. “Agree to what? Lifting me so my crotch aligned to his face?”

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