The Problem with Forever - Jennifer L. Armentrout Page 0,1

school. Four years since I’d spoken to anyone outside a very small, very close-knit group of people. Four years of preparing for this moment, and there was a good chance I was going to hurl the few bites of cereal I’d been able to force into my mouth all over the counter.

A lot could change in four years. The question was, had I?

The sound of a spoon clanking against a mug pulled me from my thoughts.

That was the third spoonful of sugar Carl Rivas had tried to inconspicuously dump into his coffee. When he thought no one was looking, he’d try to add two more. For a man in his early fifties, he was fit and trim, but he had one mean sugar addiction. In his study, the home office full of thick medical journals, there was a drawer in his desk that looked like a candy store had thrown up in it.

Hovering near the sugar bowl, he reached for the spoon again as he glanced over his shoulder. His hand froze.

I grinned a little from where I sat at the huge island, a full cereal bowl in front of me.

He sighed as he faced me, leaning back against the granite countertop and eyeing me over the rim of his mug as he took a sip of the coffee. His dark black hair, combed back from his forehead, had started to turn silver at the temples just recently, and with his deep olive-tone skin, I thought it made him look fairly distinguished. He was handsome, and so was his wife, Rosa. Well, handsome wasn’t the right word for her. With her dark skin and thick, wavy hair that had yet to see a strand of gray, she was very pretty. Stunning, really, especially in the proud way she carried herself.

Rosa had never been afraid to speak up for herself and others.

I placed my spoon in the bowl, carefully, so it wouldn’t clang against the ceramic. I didn’t like to make unnecessary noises. An old habit I’d been unable to break and that probably would be a part of me forever.

Glancing up from my bowl, I found Carl watching me. “Are you sure you’re ready for this, Mallory?”

My heart skipped unsteadily in response to what felt like an innocent question, but was really the equivalent of a loaded assault rifle. I was ready in all the ways I should be. Like a dork, I’d printed off my schedule and the map of Lands High, and Carl had called ahead, obtaining my locker assignment, so I knew exactly where everything was. I’d studied that map. Seriously. As if my life depended on it. There’d be no need to ask anyone where any of my classes were and I wouldn’t have to roam around aimlessly. Rosa had even made the trip with me to the high school yesterday so I got familiar with the road and how long the drive would take me.

I’d expected Rosa to be here this morning since today was such a big deal, something we’d been working toward for the last year. Breakfasts had always been our time. But Carl and Rosa were both doctors. She was a heart surgeon, and an unplanned surgery had called her in before I’d even pulled myself out of bed. Kind of had to give her a pass for that.

“Mallory?”

I gave a curt nod as I pressed my lips together and dropped my hands to my lap.

Carl lowered his mug, placing it on the counter behind him. “You ready for this?” he asked again.

Little bundles of nerves formed in my stomach and I really wanted to puke. Part of me wasn’t. Today was going to be difficult, but I had to do it. Meeting Carl’s gaze, I nodded.

His chest rose with a deep breath. “You know the way to school?”

I nodded as I hopped up from the bar stool and grabbed my bowl. If I left now, I would be fifteen minutes early. Probably a good idea, I guessed as I dumped the leftover cereal in the trash and placed the bowl and spoon in the stainless-steel dishwasher.

Carl wasn’t a tall man, maybe around five foot eight, but I still only came up to his shoulders when he moved to stand in front of me. “Use your words, Mallory. I know you’re nervous and you’ve got a hundred things going on in your head, but you need to use your words. Not shake your head yes or no.”

Use your words.

I squeezed my eyes