Instead of You - Anie Michaels

Chapter One

Cory’s Sixteenth Birthday


Like any other day of tenth grade, I spent my lunch break sitting on the brick wall that lined the school property. It was only four feet tall and easy enough to hop onto, and that’s where we sat, every day, and ate our lunch. Except today. I was alone. Today was January 10, and Cory was noticeably absent because his brother had taken him to get his driver’s license. Well, assuming he passed. If he didn’t pass it would be ridiculous as I’d taken the test two days earlier, on my sixteenth birthday, and told him all of the questions and answers. I’d also spent the last month studying with him. He had to pass.

Halfway through lunch, Hayes’s familiar Mustang pulled into the parking lot. As it drove closer I could make out both Hayes and Cory in the front of the car, Cory in the driver seat. I tried not to get too excited—just because he was driving didn’t mean he’d passed. The tinted windows wouldn’t give me any more clues, so I waited impatiently for the car to pull all the way up the circular drive, my heart thumping wildly as it came to a stop right in front of me.

When Cory’s door flew open and his smiling face popped up over, I knew he’d passed.

“I did it,” he said, one fist pumping into the air above his head.

“I knew you could,” I said, trying to match his smile.

Cory came around the hood of the Mustang, practically bouncing. It never really got too cold here in the winters, which was why we could eat our lunch outside even in January, but Cory was wearing his signature brown leather jacket that only intensified the blond of his hair. Surely the Florida sun had something to do with his hair color, because he was a stark contrast to his brother.

Hayes stepped out of the Mustang, and I was looking at Cory’s antithesis. Where Cory was on the shorter side, Hayes was close to six foot two. Where Cory had light blond, short, manageable hair, Hayes’s hair was dark, longer than it needed to be, and quite unruly. Cory was lean and light, running track and swimming the backstroke for the high school swim team, and Hayes was, well, built. Hayes was not wearing a jacket and even though I tried desperately to avoid it, my eyes always seemed to find his biceps.

“Hey, Kenzie,” Hayes called as he walked around the front of his car.

“Hi,” I replied, smiling. I’d known him my whole life, but I didn’t know him nearly as well as I knew Cory. “Did you come home for Cory’s birthday?”

“Yeah. Mom would have killed me if I missed my little brother’s sweet sixteen.” His smile was playful and knowing.

“Only girls have sweet sixteens, Hayes.” Cory rolled his eyes, obviously irritated by his older brother.

“Was yours a sweet sixteen, Kenzie?” He’d stopped outside his door, arms folded on the roof of his Mustang, biceps bulging.

“Yeah” was the only thing I could say in response. I was afraid if I said anything else it would be, “Yeah, biceps.” Hayes gave me a knowing grin and I felt my cheeks heat, so I looked down at my sandwich.

“Bye, Hayes,” Cory said with irritation.

“Later, kids.” I watched as the Mustang roared out of the parking lot, and I couldn’t help but give a relieved sigh. Recently, Hayes always managed to put me on edge. It was unnerving. Luckily, I only saw him when colleges were on break. He was twenty now and attended Central Florida University two hours away. About the same time he started making me nervous was when he left for college. I remember, sadly, being glad when he finally left for good. Being around him and Cory was confusing for me.

Cory hopped up onto the wall next to me and held out the brand-new shiny plastic license that looked exactly like the one I’d earned two days previously.

“I can’t believe we both passed.” His words were quiet but full of wistfulness. “We’re both sixteen, we both have our license, it’s like the one day we’ve been waiting for since, well, since we were twelve.”

Sixteen was a big deal to most teenagers. But sixteen for Cory and me held an unprecedented weight. To say our mothers had built a fantasy around Cory and me dating would have been a massive understatement. It was expected. A forgone conclusion. However, when Cory and I hit a certain age, my