My name is Alice Grey, and I've never had a friend. I'm unsure why. It's not like I'm mean—quite the contrary, I'm friendly. Yet I've been bullied and alone my entire life.
It started back in middle school.
No one ever wanted to pick me when people called out names to form their teams for those dumb sports in school.
I hung out in the back, introverted and afraid. Then when the person choosing for their team would finally reluctantly say my name, I always felt relieved to be remembered.
I'm the type of person most people forget even exists.
But maybe this will be my year.
Today is my first day as a college freshman, and my hands and neck are covered in a cold sweat as I walk up the stairs. My heart is pumping a mile per minute.
This year I will no longer be weak little Alice Grey!
I will walk through these doors and become a new woman! Here is to a new future! I got nothing to fear!
Or so I thought...
Because sadly, life isn't as simple as it seems. The second I walk inside the building, my eyes stop on him.
Nathan Douglas—the devil in hot guy's clothing. Set on this earth to torment me. Tall and imposing. Nathan sits on the stairs inside, surrounded by friends and girls.
A shudder sweeps down my spine.
In some people's eyes, Nathan might be a walking daydream: beautiful and an athlete prodigy. But in mine, he is a nightmare.
I haven't seen him in two years. He is bigger now, definitely built for the sport he plays, hockey. Broad-shouldered and muscular, I bet he can deliver a nasty hit on the ice.
But I'm not admiring him like the other girls are.
I fear him.
Nathan bullied me in middle school and half of high school before graduating. I still remember how he used to steal the drawings I carried and flip through them without my permission.
He once smiled down at one drawing, saying, "Wow, perhaps you're the new Picasso, Alice?"
Mean, mean, so damn mean!
I still suffer nightmares from the humiliation that followed after that. Everyone called me Picasso for a year, and it was terrible.
I still fear Nathan. That's why I stand rooted to my spot, but when those ice-blue eyes meet mine, the usual comments don't leave his mouth.
I'm met with silence.
There is recognition in Nathan's gaze. He definitely remembers me, but there aren't any emotions crossing his features—no hatred or disgust.
He rakes me up and down and then quickly looks away. And that's how my first reunion with the guy who bullied me for six years goes.
No words are exchanged, yet my heart is still clapping against my ribcage.
A girl sitting next to Nathan spots me. She is pretty and leans close to his ear, whispering loud enough for me to hear. "Hey, isn't that Alice?"
"It is, isn't it?" Andrew, Nathan's friend, says. "I haven't seen her in a year."
Everyone except Nathan falls into gossiping about me. They aren't very secretive, though. I can hear what they are saying.
"Is she shorter?"
"No, I'm telling you, it's the Asian genes."
"Shouldn't she be a doctor by now?"
Everyone laughs except for Nathan, and the girl sitting next to him swats her hand as if to dismiss the racist jokes. "Stop it! Look at her! She looks terrified!"
No, I'm not. I'm just baffled that people can still be so mean in college. My heart is aching, and I fear nothing has changed from high school.
"Hey, Nathan. You used to call her Picasso, right?"
"I wonder if she still draws?"
I keep my gaze on Nathan. Oddly enough, he doesn't even respond to his friends asking him questions about me.
Maybe he has moved on from his bullying antics?
It doesn't matter. I can't stand here like an idiot all day.
I quickly make it past Nathan and his friends, hoping they won't notice my flaming cheeks as I climb the stairs.
I'm in a hurry to find the room where my introduction day will take place. It isn't hard to find. There are other freshmen there, and I make it in time.
The rest is kind of a blur.
A teacher gives a speech. I receive my schedule, information about important deadlines, and the professors' office hours.
The day passes with hours feeling like minutes. I'm now free to head home. I don't live in the dorms but with my family.
As I wander across the parking lot, the hair on my back rises to stand on edge. Next to my tiny red Fiat borrowed from my mom stands Nathan, leaning against a black pickup truck.
He is alone and smoking a cigarette.
Ouch, what do I do now?
I think about turning around to avoid him, but then I get angry with myself for being a coward. My mom always preaches, "You have to face your fears to overcome them!" Which will be my motto this year.
Nathan doesn't scare me!
That is a straight-up lie, yet I still walk over to my car, but I'm not ignored.
The second Nathan notices me, he steps forward. Out from the shadows, like the wolf ready to slaughter the lamb. His shadow falls over me, and I stand rooted to my spot as he towers above me.
"Hello, Alice." Nathan's deep voice alone got the blood in my veins freezing over.
Somehow, I manage to answer. "Hi..."
He looks over at my car. "A red Fiat—how fitting for a midget..."
With my heart pounding way too fast, I lift my chin to face him: dark hair and ice-blue eyes—perfect bone structure and stubble. He is beautiful and smells like expensive cologne. But I find his eyes cold, and his lips are far from smiling.
I swallow thickly. "It's my mom's car..." I'm not sure why I felt the need to clarify. It just slipped out.
Nathan's lips twitches. He is amused, probably knowing I'm nervous. I bet he feeds on my fear like a demon. "I see..."
"It must be easy to find parking spots."
Is he trying to make conversation? I can't tell what his deal is.
"It is..." I mumble.
"I'm surprised it's still working."
My heart claps against my ribcage. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Don't those cars often break?"
Is he trying to insult me?
I raise my voice a little, glaring at him. "Mine works perfectly fine, thank you."
Amusement twinkles in his eyes as if he likes getting a rise out of me. "Okay."
I send him another glare even as silence falls. Nathan doesn't say anything else, but he does, however, keep his eyes on me. It makes the hair rise on my arms when he makes no move to leave me alone.
Why is he just standing there?
I size him up, and my eyes zero in on his cigarette. "Should you really be smoking?" I ask in a low voice. "I mean... You're an athlete."
I think I see him smirk, but I'm unsure. I can't keep my eyes on Nathan's face for too long without feeling like my heart might explode. So I keep averting my gaze.
Nathan, however, isn't shy to speak or look at me. "Athletes can't smoke?"
I didn't expect a follow-up question.
I wet my lips. "Ummm..."
My ears burn in embarrassment as I mumble. "Smoking isn't good for your health."
Humor lights his face. "No shit."
"Maybe I should start smoking more than one package a day..."
Is he messing with me?
Regardless, I furrow my eyebrows. "No, why would you do that? You should quit your smoking habit. Believe me, your lungs would thank you."
Nathan breathes a laugh. "Are you worried about me, Grey?"
"No, I'm just..." I take a deep breath. "Just don't smoke, okay?"
"And what if I don't want to quit?"
"Well, that would be a shame, Nathan. You will probably develop lung cancer early. Smoking is a stupid way to die."
Silence falls again; it's like someone pressed pause.
Nathan doesn't say anything, but I can feel his intense eyes moving over me as if processing my words. It makes me break out in goosebumps. Could the atmosphere get any more awkward?
I'm unsure if the conversation is over, but I decide to walk forward—only for Nathan to step in my way.
I freeze and lift my eyes to a formidable chest and a pair of muscular arms crossed over it.
He is enormous and way taller than I remember.
My heart is racing as I lift my chin to face him. His lips part."Is Alice Grey lecturing me about my smoking habits?"
The corners of his mouth pinch when I take a step back. "It sounded like it... I wonder where you got all of that sudden courage from?"
"No, I'm not—" I hold my breath as Nathan's ice-blue eyes roam over my face. He stands too close, inches away, and probably more than a foot taller than me.
"You cut your hair..."
Why is that important? "I did..."
"Too bad," his eyes won't leave mine. "I liked it longer."
My throat runs dry.
But while I'm paralyzed by fear, more amusement washes over Nathan's handsome features. It gets worse the longer I stay silent. I should say something, but I can't form intelligent sentences.
Can anyone blame me?
This is the guy I feared for six years.
This is the guy that made the entire school call me Picasso.
I can't breathe in his presence!
What does Nathan want from me?
"I see you're as well-spoken as always. You really have a way with words, Grey," Nathan deadpans, yet I get the feeling his eyes are laughing at me.
Regardless he steps away from me and heads to his truck. Though, before Nathan climbs in, his eyes travel to mine again. It's not a quick glance but a real stare followed by a smirk.
Why is Nathan looking at me like that?
Bewildered, I watch my enemy drive away without even telling me goodbye.
But even with him gone, I stand in the same spot, trying to calm down my heart by pressing my hand against my chest.
I was wrong earlier. With Nathan Douglas attending the same college, it seems this year won't mean a new future. I will still be the same Alice Grey. The weird girl who is constantly quiet and afraid.
Perhaps I should just drop out of college? Because most of all, I would never like to see Nathan Douglas again.
NathanMy roommate Andrew is out with his girlfriend tonight. I'm alone in the frathouse since I seem to be the only one who couldn't care less about women and relationships. I'm a lone wolf, and even though women are drawn to me, I've been accused of looking intimidating. Probably because of my size. I'm a big guy, even for a hockey player.And I don't mean fat—fuck no. I'm shredded, broad-shouldered, and tall, VERY tall. It makes people skitter away from me like I'm Moses walking through the red sea.And I like that. People stay away from me, but sometimes—My heart pangs with hurt and anger when the memory of Alice Grey's frightened eyes comes to mind. Earlier in the parking lot, her entire face seemed to scream at me to get the hell away from her.Why does that bother me so much? I shouldn't care. Alice is a nobody. Yet it hurt when she looked at me like I was a monster. That tiny woman is so goddamn afraid of me. "Yeah, and whose fault is that dipshit?" I rake my fingers throug
NathanI'm standing in the parking lot after hockey practice. This is my first cigarette of the day, and I can't even enjoy it. Not after she told me to quit.Alice Grey.Suddenly, I remember her voice saying, "You have a big heart, Nathan. You may look intimidating, but your gentle heart is part of why I love you so much."My chest constricts when those words sink into my head, and the image of her older self smiling at me hits my brain. She was beautiful as my wife. Mousy, brown hair dangling down the sides of her round cheeks. Glossy lips caught in the most captivating smile I've ever seen.Suddenly, I'm not even interested in other women anymore.That version of Alice that I saw in my dream has ruined me. She was the most stunning woman I've ever seen: Large breasts, glowing cheeks, and kind eyes. She was also carrying my child!I sigh and massage my eyelids, yet no matter what, I can't get Alice out of my head.Damn it all!How will I ever be able to forget how that other Alice
AliceIt's after school, and I have realized that I need to try my hardest to make some friends. I even have the perfect plan. Our hockey team, The Fighting Devils, has a fan club that has been leaving notes all around campus. They are searching for new members, and even though I know nothing about this violent sport, I think this could be my chance. Many girls are in the fan club, and I will join them.Brilliant plan, right?If only I wasn't so nervous...I suck in a deep breath to calm myself. It's cold inside the ice hockey arena, and the sounds of guys grunting and hitting the puck fill my ears. People sit on the bleachers, watching the practice as if put under a spell, and my eyes land on Winnie.A smile spread over my lips.Winnie is the girl whose number was left on the fliers. She is the chairman of the fan club and is supposedly friendly. We texted earlier, and she told me to come and meet her here. "Got to make it over there, I guess," I mumble as I pave my way past peopl
AliceI'm hurrying to the parking lot in the dark. Despite being old enough to do whatever I want, I value my relationship with my parents. Therefore, I plan on continuing to come home in time for mom's home-cooked dinners. My mom works as a chef. She owns a restaurant with my dad, and regardless of what anyone may think, we only speak English in our family. I hate when people expect me to understand Chinese, and my mother cooks Italian meals. She is excellent in the kitchen, which is probably why my four sisters never skip meals. We are all very respectful of our parents. I hurry my steps, only to glance to the right when I hear footsteps approaching. Nathan is walking beside me, and with his freakishly long legs, it doesn't take long for him to catch up. My skin crawls, and my heart leaps into my throat. I fear Nathan, but I'm too irritated to let it show. "Are you stalking me now?" I snap at him. Nathan pauses briefly, and I do the same. We stand facing each other like two a
NathanI'm so fucking stupid! Why did I raise my voice at Alice, and why did I get into the car?! I said she wasn't worth it, but the joke is on me because my heart won't stop aching, and my brain won't shut off!Those images from that dream are hunting me as I drive. I see the other Alice's smile, and the picture mixes with the real-life Alice I saw earlier. Their faces, eyes, and smiles—it's all the same!"Damn," I say while driving and suck in a deep breath. "That dream really messed me up..."Tears are stinging behind my eyelids, but I don't shed them. I'm a grown man, for fuck's sake. It would be stupid to cry over something like this, and yet... Yet I'm close. I was about to have a fifth daughter in that dream—I held Lily in my arms. She was perfect. Cute and adorable with tiny little toes. Her lion mane was a mess, and she smiled when I held her. How will I forget about her?And Alice... Fuck Alice. She isn't mine. I don't even know her in real life, yet when I saw how Andr
AliceI've had the best week ever!Winnie has quickly become my best friend. We are both studying prelaw, but there is a difference between us: her heart is in it. But I, on the other hand, honestly don't want to become an attorney.I just want to make my parents proud. They would probably be disappointed if I told them about my dream. It's a big secret, but I want to draw. It could be for comic books. Or maybe even comics on the web?"Hm, which one should I choose..." Winnie is standing ahead of me in the food line, taking her sweet time picking her hamburger.I roll my eyes at her. "They are all the same.""Aha!" Winnie exclaims. "This one!"I have to resist the urge to laugh when she picks her food. Winnie is a character, alright, but I like her. She is my first friend, and that's precious. I never want to lose her. "Hey, Alice?" Winnie beams at me when I look over my shoulder. "I'm going to go and sit with the others. But we are sitting by the table right over there—"Winnie!"We
AliceI'm nervous. Music blasts from the frathouse, and people are lining up the street. This is the first party I've ever been to, and I'm close to freaking out from the sheer pressure. What if people will find me boring?Will I even have fun here?What if, for some reason, that doesn't make sense, people just start bullying me out of nowhere? I know the chances are slim to none, but I'm just so freaking scared and traumatized from high school. I sometimes have trouble understanding why Winnie is even willing to be my friend. My heart is booming when Winnie pats my shoulder. A wide grin has spread over her face. "Are you excited?"I try my hardest to smile. "A little." But I'm mostly scared."Good, because this is going to be fun," Winnie fishes up her phone and unlocks her screen, mumbling. "Andrew told us we could skip the line... Let me just text him to come to the door..."I try to keep it together while Winnie calls Andrew. My eyes go to the left and right, landing on all the
NathanAlice and I make quite a team, and I'm having fun. "Down you go!" Alice shouts when she manages to push another girl off the shoulders of some random bloke. "Another victory for team Nathan and Alice! Let's go!"Water splashes in my eyes, and people whistle around the pool. I don't make a move to get up, though. Alice and I are finally down to our last challenge. The next battle will be our fight against Jake and Winnie. "Ladies and gentlemen!" The judge speaks over the noise in an anchor's tone. "We are finally down to the last battle between team Alice and Nathan and Winnie and Jake! Who is going to win?!"People whistle and cheer. Some hold their glasses in the air, and a few red plastic cups float around in the pool. Gross. I wrinkle my nose in disgust, but instant happiness finds me when I look up at the dwarf sitting on my shoulders. Alice weighs nothing. She is adorably tiny yet larger-than-life in my heart. Why can't she be mine already?Seeing Alice's smile makes m