Better (Too Good series)
Author:Walden, S.

Better (Too Good series) by Walden, S.

 

 

 

 

 

Seven months earlier . . .

 

“Mr. Connelly! You’re making that up!” Cadence cried.

 

He watched her tiny shoulders shake with laughter. She pressed the dry erase marker against the board to hold it steady, but it was no use. Her laughter forced it up and down and sideways, muddying the numbers he’d written out for her.

 

“I’m not. I swear,” he chuckled. “And now you get to start all over.”

 

“Ugh! Help me, please,” she said, turning around to look at him.

 

He studied the wisps that framed her face, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows, catching them and setting them on fire. Her hairline, temples, and cheeks glowed. She looked like a porcelain doll.

 

She grinned and shook her head. “I still don’t believe you.”

 

He grinned back. “I know.”

 

He walked to the board and erased her mess. And then he rewrote the numbers and waited for her to start the problem. He wouldn’t baby her this time. He’d done it every time before. All it took was a little pout and the upturn of those sad blue eyes. He was a sucker, and he knew it. But not this time. This time she’d have to work for it.

 

“You know this, Cadence,” he said encouragingly.

 

She nodded and took a deep breath. He thought it was cute. He couldn’t help it. She was steeling herself for the mental workout.

 

He watched her furrow her brows.

 

No, he thought. Don’t you dare.

 

And then her face clouded over.

 

Cadence . . .

 

“Mr. Connelly, I don’t think . . .”

 

“Yes, you do,” he said. “You can do this, Cadence.”

 

She chewed her lip and made a decision. She turned her pretty little face towards him, tilted her chin a fraction of an inch, and looked up with her big, sad eyes. And then she blinked. And waited.

 

Fuck.

 

Mr. Connelly sighed. “Okay. I’ll start you off.”

 

“Thank you,” she whispered.

 

He saw her tuck her chin to hide the grin playing at the corners of her lips. She knew she won. Again. And he couldn’t be frustrated with her. He wanted to kiss the top of her head instead—right at the point where her hair parted. His admission of defeat.

 

She turned her face to him again, marker poised inches from the white board.

 

“Well? Let’s do this, Mr. Connelly.”

 

He smiled. “Okay, Cadence.”

 

And there was no going back.

 

He walked around all afternoon with Cadence in his brain—unable to shake her, unable to figure out what to do with her even though he already resolved to make her his. How? How did he honestly think he could pull that off? He needed perspective, so he made a detour on his way home.

 

He plopped the six-pack on the counter and stared at Dylan after his confession.

 

Dylan scratched his neck, then leaned back in his chair. He propped his feet on the counter and looked at his best friend.

 

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

 

Mark sighed and popped the cap of his Newcastle. He took a swig then shrugged.

 

“Uh, no. You don’t get to shrug. Answer my question! What the hell, man?” Dylan said. He took the beer Mark handed him.

 

“She’s . . . she’s just . . .” He searched for the words, frustrated that they couldn’t come easier.

 

“You need a song?” Dylan joked.

 

“Shut up, man.”

 

Dylan laughed and grabbed a record off the back counter. He slid it over to Mark.

 

“Go put that on,” he said.

 

Mark rolled his eyes and walked to the closest record player. He pulled the vinyl from its sleeve and placed it on the turntable. He lifted the arm, then paused.

 

“She’s like a clean slate,” he said quietly.

 

“Yeah. One you plan to dirty up,” Dylan said.

 

“No. That’s not it.” Mark placed the needle carefully on the vinyl. “Good choice, by the way.” He listened as the distinctive sound of The Killers filled the tiny space of the record store.

 

“I know,” Dylan replied, downing his beer.

 

“I don’t wanna mess her up,” Mark said. “I want her to make me a clean slate, too.”

 

He said it facing the record player. He couldn’t look at his friend, but he sensed the immediate tension in the room. There was a long stretch of silence before Dylan spoke. Mark watched the record spin as he finished his beer.

 

“Look man, I know everything with Andy—”

 

“Don’t say her name,” Mark said. “Just, please don’t.”

 

Dylan took a deep breath. “How is this chick gonna help you, Mark? She’s in high school. She’s nowhere near your maturity level, experience level—”

 

“I don’t want her to be,” Mark said. He turned around and walked back to the counter, hoisting himself up on it and reaching for a second beer. “You want another?”

 

Dylan shook his head. “I’m on the clock.”

 

Mark smirked. “Well, I’m not.” He popped the cap and took a long, satisfying gulp. “I don’t want her to know anything.”

 

“What? So you can corrupt her?”

 

“No. I just like her innocence.”

 

“Yeah, so you can corrupt it.”