Leave the Pieces Behind
by Shirley Anne Edwards
Genre: YA Romance
After she overhears Foster making fun of her to his friends, she’s devastated. And not even chocolate can take away the pain. She intends to wallow in grief for a boy that was never hers to begin with, but Austen, her eccentric new neighbor has other ideas.
The strange boy down the street always wears a black fedora, walks barefoot, and focuses all his energy on building a treehouse in his backyard. For some reason, he’s elected Bree to help him. At first, she turns him down because he acts too awkward and takes everything she says literally. But after learning of his autism, she decides to help with his construction (forgiving him for not being a chocolate fan), even though she doesn’t know a think about power tools.
As Bree and Austen grow closer, Foster notices Bree no longer worships the ground he walks on. He wants her to go back to that doting version of Bree, but Austen has become more important to her than she’s ready to admit.
Austen may just be the one to help her move on from Foster.
Like two pieces of a puzzle, they fit together perfectly.
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As Hunter inched closer to the cake on the coffee table, complete with drool sliding from the corner of his mouth, I may have snarled at him. A first for me. I never snarled at anyone, humans or dogs. But with my nerves jangling like crazy, I decided to blame my hormones. At fifteen, I may have been a few years past puberty, but I, Breanna Charlotte Apollo, had the worst crush on the just-turned seventeen-year-old hunk, Foster Quinn, president of the senior class of Musgrove High and one of the hottest guys I knew.
My longtime crush beginning in the seventh grade had grown into full-blown lust—which, of course, explained why I woke up before dawn on a Saturday morning to bake a chocolate mousse with graham cracker crust cake from scratch. Foster had a bad chocolate addiction, like me. This cake would be my birthday gift for him, a few days late. His birthday had landed in the middle of the week, and I had given him a silver keychain with his initial on it for his keys to the new silver Jeep Renegade his parents bought him.
A way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. Once I gave him the cake, he would invite me to the lake—where he’d planned to go with his group of friends, aka his crew.
Hopefully, he would notice I’d dressed for the lake, in my bathing suit, board shorts and tank top. Even though it was the last weekend of September, the Indian summer still lasted, which I didn’t mind because it meant having more time to hang out with Foster.
His parents owned a house near Devon Lake. Foster and his crew had hung out there most of the summer. I’d never been asked to join, but, now, I had the power of my homemade chocolate cake to convince him this time. People raved about my ooey-gooey, sin-in-the mouth desserts, especially Foster. When I presented him his birthday cake I had made just for him in the pre-dawn hours, maybe then he would finally understand how much he meant to me.
Hunter nudged his nose in the plastic Saran wrapped cake. I swooped it up then inhaled to calm down. I had to leave before Foster left without me.
After wiggling my toes in my flip-flops and then cracking my neck from side to side, I stepped outside to near-perfect weather for swimming. Foster’s Jeep sat across the street, including the man himself with his dad.
Mr. Quinn did most of the talking while Foster listened. Not wanting to intrude, I waited impatiently. Eh, screw it.
“Hey, Foster!” I yelled loud enough for the entire street to hear.
Startled, he turned in my direction. I took a second to soak him in, mainly his face, which had a perfect tan from him spending most of the summer outdoors.
Mr. Q didn’t a wave or a smile. He didn’t seem pleased with my interrupting, but I ignored it as I walked toward them, clutching the pan of chocolatey goodness.
“Hiya, B.A.” Foster used my initials as his nickname for me. He kept his eyes on the cake instead of on me. When I reached him, he ruffled my hair. Instead of giving me a hug or a nudge like he did with his other friends, he always tapped the top of my head—an ongoing thing for years.
My face warmed. Hopefully, he or his dad wouldn’t notice.
“I bought you another gift for your birthday, even though it’s a few days late.” I presented the cake to Foster, who licked his bottom lip.
“It’s chocolate cake,” he said in appreciation.
Mr. Q. dropped the stern act and inspected the cake with approval. “Is this cake from The Tasty Darling?”
My Aunt Crystal and Uncle Ron owned The Tasty Darling, which reviewers and patrons alike had considered the top bakery on the East Coast for the last ten years.
“It’s my Aunt Crystal’s recipe, but I baked it from scratch.” I held it out to Foster. “In honor of your seventeenth birthday. I woke extra early today to bake it, so it’s still fresh.” I wanted him to know how much work I had put into his present. He knew my baking skills very well because he volunteered as my guinea pig when it came to baking new creations.
“Bree, you didn’t have to go through the trouble.” He took the cake and moved to give me a hug.
I embraced him around the waist because I couldn’t reach his shoulders unless I lifted up on my toes. Foster stood over six feet. But I didn’t mind. It allowed me to rest my cheek on the middle of his chest and subtly inhale his woodsy scent I wish I could spray on my clothes.
He patted my shoulder then shifted away. His dad, in his typical weekend wear of khakis and some light-colored polo shirt, complete with leather loafers, took out his cell. “I have a client calling in ten minutes. You’ll remember what we talked about before we were interrupted.”
“Yes, sir.” Foster’s smile dimmed, but his voice still held respect. Mr. Q. demanded respect from everyone, including his son.
Mr. Q clapped Foster on the back, and then nodded at me. “Tell your parents I say hello, and give my regards to your aunt. I’ll have to stop in The Tasty Darling next week to buy her banana bread doughnuts for my office.”
“Sure.” I saluted him, which actually made him wink at me. My cheeks warmed again. Mr. Q was pretty cute for an older man. Foster definitely took after his dad more than his mom. He had the tall, dark, and handsome thing going on.
Mr. Q walked toward the house, his cell to his ear. Foster watched him go, swinging his key chain around, including the one I gave him for his birthday. Seeing him with my gift gave me the major warm fuzzies.
“I think my dad has a thing for your aunt,” Foster announced.
“What?” My jaw dropped in shock. Why would he think—?
He leaned toward me, close enough his chest bumped my nose. “Are you wearing makeup?”
Yes! He noticed! I’d started wearing some makeup since Mom gave me permission to when I turned fifteen in June. I usually wore the basics, such as lipstick and concealer and mascara, but not much on the weekends. This morning, I made sure I looked like the older girls in Foster’s crew who would be at the lake. I wanted him to see me as more mature and not like an annoying little sister.
I thrust out my chest, along with flipping my hair over my shoulders like I’d seen many of the girls in my school do to get Foster’s attention, especially Tori--
All of a sudden, loud booming music blared around the corner, and two cars drove up behind Foster’s car. One of the backdoors opened before the rest, and a girl with a head of bouncing red-and-blond curls jumped out and bolted toward Foster.
He set the cake on the ground and held out his arms. “Tori!”
She jumped on him and wrapped her legs around his waist. I ducked away to stop from getting hit as he swung her around in a circle.
Tori Greeley, who should be my nemesis, blocked me from Foster’s attentions. Not only the most popular girl at my school, she was also his girlfriend of one year.
She exemplified what a popular mean girl should be, much like you would find in some stereotypical teen movie. But instead, she was very sweet, almost as sweet as the chocolate Foster loved. I guess it made sense why he adored her.
While they kissed, I concentrated on the sidewalk. Behind me, the rest of the group emerged from the cars. A beefy arm swung around my shoulder, and Sam, Foster’s best friend, rocked side to side.
“B.A. Baracus, how’s it shaking?” His big hand caused destruction to my hair, messing it up more than Foster had.
I exhaled through my mouth since he had a bad sweating habit. His black Pac-Man T-shirt already had sweat stains under his arms. He loved wearing vintage T-shirts from the 1980s, especially anything to do with old TV shows. He got such a kick calling me B.A. Baracus, even though I never gave him permission, and had only allowed Foster the right to call me by any nickname.
I swallowed a snarky response. He was a harmless goof. We actually had some good conversations, mainly about food since he loved eating. I usually let him be my guinea pig number two for anything I cooked.
“Hey, Sam. You’re going to the lake with Foster?” I played dumb. The rest of the group of three girls and two guys nodded or waved at me. We all recognized one another because went to the same school.
“Yup. Got to get as much sun and swimming in before the summer disappears.” He lifted his sunglasses over his head as he spotted my edible masterpiece on the sidewalk. “Cake?”
I smothered a laugh as his eyes widened and his bottom lip trembled. “Yeah, it’s Foster’s for his birth—”
He lunged for the cake and tore off the wrap, taking a chunk from the side and popping it in his mouth.
I gasped in horror as he licked his fingers free of chocolate and tried to tear off another piece. A sob tumbled from my mouth and everything seemed to slow down. Before he destroyed all my hard work, Foster snatched the plate from him and shoved him away.
“Dude, Bree baked this for me.” He clutched the lopsided cake to his chest and glared at his friend.
At least Sam had the decency to look ashamed. “Sorry. Chocolate is my weakness.”
Tori gave me a one arm hug. “Don’t be upset. Foster will cherish it even if Sam ends up eating the entire thing.”
I wanted to lash out at him, and her, but she sounded so sympathetic. She had always been nice to me, even if I tagged along with her and Foster when I shouldn’t have.
“Foster will probably share his cake with everyone.” I hid my frustration behind a smile.
“Chocolate makes me break out. As for cake.…” She grimaced. “Too fattening.”
I’d never seen her eat anything dessert or the least fattening. It showed because of her flat stomach and slender arms and legs. I enjoyed my share of sweets, and I always tasted the food I cooked. I had a normal build for my age and height, but I had a curved tummy and solid hips no one wanted.
“I guess my cake is a winner based on Sam’s reaction.” I hoped he didn’t snatch more chunks before Foster ate some.
“I’ll make sure Foster gets the next piece.” Tori rubbed my arm as he talked with the rest of his boys, while the three girls chatted among themselves. “Even if he didn’t like it, Foster will tell you he does since he loves you like a little sister.”
From anyone else, her comment would have been cruel. She may have meant it like that, but I really didn’t think she did because of how she generally treated me. I had yet to witness one unkind action from her. But it still stung. She had unwittingly put me in my place as a side piece in Foster’s affection. Tori was his equal, while I stood on the lower scale in the role of a relative to him.
A rumble came out of nowhere. Not from the sky to show a storm brewing but from a moving van driving by, followed by a white SUV pulling into the driveway of a house two down from my own across the street. The loud sound seemed to snap those around me into action, and they scrambled to the cars to pull out their beach gear.
Foster tossed his keys to Tori. “Warm up the car for me, babe.”
Tori swung the keychain around her finger and strolled past him. When he smacked her butt, she giggled and blew him a kiss.
I gagged, and gagged again when Foster handed Sam the cake. It took everything I had not to stomp over and snatch it from his hands. But this time, he didn’t rip off a chunk. He bowed to Foster and then turned to me. “I’ll protect this cake with my life.”
“You better!” I pointed at him, wondering if I could sit next to him in the car to keep an eye on him.
Foster came to me and set his hands on my shoulders, giving them a soft squeeze. My stomach jumped in response. But I played it cool, waiting for him to tell me to grab a bag for the lake.
“Again, thanks for the cake. I guess I should put it in my house so it doesn’t melt, but I want to eat it at the lake.” He leaned down and kissed my cheek.
My fingers twitched to grip the side of his shirt, but I kept my arms at my sides. “Instead of by the ocean, cake by the lake?”
“I can’t wait to lick your frosting off my fingers as I enjoy the beauty of the lake, surrounded by my friends.” He sent me a beaming smile.
“Sounds like a great plan. Give me a minute to—”
“I’ll catch ya later, B.A.” He then got in the driver’s seat of his new car, revved the engine, and drove away with a car full of his other friends behind him while they left me behind.
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