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November 9(15)
Author: Colleen Hoover

“Fallon,” he says, commanding my attention. His fingers meet my chin, and he tilts my face upward. When I open my eyes, he’s a lot closer than I thought he was. He’s looking down at me with a pointed stare. “People want to stare at you. Believe me, I’m one of them. But when everything about you screams, ‘Look away,’ then that’s exactly what people are going to do. The only person who gives a shit about a few scars on your face is you.”

I want so badly to believe him. If I could believe everything he’s saying, then maybe my life would mean a whole lot more to me than it does right now. If I believed him, maybe I wouldn’t be so nervous about the idea of auditioning again. Maybe I would be doing the exact thing my mother says a girl my age should be doing: finding out who I really am. Not hiding from myself.

Hell, I’m not even dressing for myself. I dress in what I think other people would prefer I wear.

Ben’s eyes fall to my shirt, and for the first time, I notice his lungs are pulling in air with as much effort as mine are. He lifts his hand and fingers the top button on my shirt, popping it open. I suck in a quick breath. His eyes never leave my shirt and mine never leave his face. When he moves his fingers down to the second button, I could swear he pulls in a shaky breath.

I don’t know what he’s doing, and I’m terrified he’s about to be the first person to see what’s beneath this shirt. But for the life of me, I can’t find words to stop him.

When the second button is freed, he moves down to the third. Before he flicks that button loose, his eyes lift to mine, and he looks just as scared as I feel right now. Our eyes remain locked until he gets to the last and final button. When it’s loose, I look down at my shirt.

Only a sliver of skin is showing over my belly button, so I don’t actually feel exposed yet. But I’m about to, because he slowly lifts both of his hands to the top of my shirt. Before he makes his next move, I squeeze my eyes shut again.

I don’t want to see the look on his face when he sees just how much of my body was burned. Most of my entire left side, to be exact. What he sees when he looks at my cheek is only a fraction compared to what’s beneath my clothes.

I feel my shirt being pulled open, and the more of me that becomes exposed, the harder it is to hold back tears. It’s the worst time in the world for me to get emotional, but I guess tears aren’t known for their impeccable timing.

His breaths are extremely audible, and so is the gasp I hear him suck in as soon as my shirt is open all the way. I want to shove him out of the closet and close the door and hide, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last two years. So for reasons I can’t explain, I don’t ask him to stop.

Ben slips the shirt off my shoulders and slowly slides it down the length of my arms. He works it the rest of the way over my hands until it falls to the floor. I can feel his hands graze both of mine, and I’m too embarrassed to move, knowing exactly what he sees right now as he looks at me.

His fingers begin to rise up my hands and wrists, just as the first tear falls down my cheek. The tear doesn’t faze him, though. Chills break out on most of my skin as he continues moving his hands up my forearms. Instead of trailing his fingers all the way to my shoulders, he pauses. I still don’t dare open my eyes.

I feel his forehead rest gently against mine and the fact that he’s breathing as hard as I am is the only thing that gives me a sense of comfort in this moment.

My stomach clenches when his hands meet the top of my jeans.

This is going too far.

Too far, too far, too far, but all I can do is suck in a wild breath and let his fingers pop open the button on my jeans, because as much as I wish he would stop, I get the feeling he’s not undressing me for pleasure. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but I’m too immobile to ask.

Breathe, Fallon. Breathe. Your lungs need new air.

His forehead is still resting against mine, and I can feel his breath crashing against my lips. I have a feeling his eyes are wide open, though, and he’s staring down between us, watching his hands as they work down my zipper.

When the zipper reaches its destination, he slides his hands between my jeans and hips—casually enough for me to believe it doesn’t even bother him that he’s touching the scars on my left side. He pushes my jeans down over my hips and then begins to slowly lower himself as he slides them down the length of my legs. The breath from his mouth moves down my body until I feel it stop at my stomach, but his lips never once touch my skin.

When my jeans are at my feet, I step out of them one foot at a time.

I have no idea what happens next. What happens next? What. Happens. Next?

My eyes are still closed, and I have no idea if he’s standing or kneeling or walking away.

“Lift your arms,” he says.

His voice is rough and close, and it startles me to the point that my eyes flick open involuntarily. He’s standing directly in front of me, holding the dress he dropped to the floor earlier.

I look up at him, and I absolutely wasn’t expecting to see this look on his face. His eyes are so heated and fierce, it’s as if it’s taking every last ounce of his restraint not to remove my last two items of clothing.

He clears his throat. “Please lift your arms, Fallon.”

I lift them, and he raises the dress over my head and slips it down my arms. He pulls it until my head slips through and he keeps pulling it, adjusting it over my curves. When the dress is finally in place, he lifts my hair and lets it fall down my back. He takes a half step back and eyes me up and down. He clears his throat, but his voice still comes out raspy when he speaks.

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