The Novella Collection by Katie McGarry Page 0,1

know something, and you’re spilling.”

Lila turns her head as if there is someone else nearby. “What did you say? I’ll be right there.”

“Don’t you dare! You’re setting up your apartment and you told me your roommates aren’t moving in until next week.”

“Lincoln’s here.” She sucks at lying.

“You told me he has to work until six.” Lincoln’s her boyfriend and the two of them are about to start their sophomore year at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She’s super excited that she and friends of hers will be living in the same apartment complex as Lincoln and his friends.

“Our side of Florida is on a different time zone than you. Like five hours. Psh.” She shakes her cell. “We have…ba….connec…tion.”

I purse my lips. “You’re not fooling me.”

“Fine.” She flops back on her already-made bed. Only Lila would have a neatly made bed on the same day she moves in. “Noah told us he was going to propose to you at the beginning of the vacation. I thought he had and you were keeping it from me. You’ve got so many friends now, and I’ll admit I want to be the first to know.”

It’s weird how there’s a spike of elation at the thought of him proposing and then the dip of disappointment that he and I aren’t engaged. “Why do you think he hasn’t proposed yet?”

Lila twists her fingers into her ponytail. “Remember when Lincoln came to Louisville and the whole group of us went to Isaiah and West’s place to play cards?”

“Yes.” Noah was in a foul mood when we left even though he won while playing poker. I don’t play poker, so I’d spent the night sitting and talking with Lila, and I hadn’t understood why Noah was angry.

“When you went to the bathroom, I heard Noah arguing with Isaiah. Noah was mad because he said everyone let him win.”

My forehead furrows. “Why would they do that?” Those boys are highly competitive, especially Logan, Ryan and West.

Just thinking of them and the rest our self-made family makes me smile. To think it all started out with me meeting Noah. Eventually, I became friends with Noah’s best friends, Beth and Isaiah, and then our circle continued to beautifully expand.

“What does this have to do with a proposal?” I continue.

Lila tilts her head like I should have a massive lightbulb moment. “Noah gave all the extra money he saved this summer to Abby to help with her grandma.”

“I know this.” Because I gave money, too. Abby is a good friend of Noah’s and Isaiah’s and she became a part of our unofficial family. Her grandmother needed medical help and we all pitched in because that’s what members of a real family do—love and support each other.

“Echo,” she says as if saying my name slowly will help me understand. “Noah was saving that money to buy you an engagement ring. The guys let him win so he’d at least have something to give you when he proposes. Maybe he hasn’t proposed because he doesn’t have a diamond ring. He seemed real upset that he didn’t have one to offer you.”

I blink. Several times. My heart hurts and I blow out air to help with the ache. Yes, Noah and I talk about our future together, but we also talk about how we aren’t in a rush to run down the aisle. “Why would Noah propose to me now?”

She offers a sheepish expression. “You’re leaving—for a year. Honestly, he and I talked and he wants to propose to show you he supports you chasing your dreams while he chases his. He wants to show you that he doesn’t believe distance and time are going to change how he feels about you. Noah really loves you, and I think proposing is his equivalent of making a promise to you that he’ll always be by your side.”

My eyes water because that sounds like Noah. He’d maybe drop an f-bomb in there because he sometimes still has a tough time with emotion, but Noah does love me and he does support me and I love him back just as much.

While Lila obviously knows things I don’t, I know hundreds of things she doesn’t and one of them is that there is no extra money—not for Noah. His car broke down and even with Isaiah working on the car for free, the part needed for the repair was expensive and Noah had to pay for his car insurance and…just the normal ands of life.

This weeklong vacation