Home > Next to Never (Fall Away #4.5)

Next to Never (Fall Away #4.5)
Author: Penelope Douglas

Chapter 1

“Move it, Quinn!” I hear Jax bellow, clapping his hands. “Come on!”

I race between two other players, shuffling the soccer ball between my feet and feeling my black and orange jersey sticking to my back.

I love soccer. I love soccer. I love soccer.

No, I don’t. I hate soccer. I’m thrilled it’s the end of my senior year, and this is my last game.

“Over here!” I spot Maya Velasquez out of the corner of my eye, calling to me.

I swing back my right foot and shoot the ball over to her just as I see someone dive into my space.

“Suck dirt, Caruthers.” And then all I see is a green jersey crashing into me and shoving me to the ground.

“Ugh,” I growl, wincing.

Damn it! A silvery ache shoots through my ass and my back as I peer up, squinting against the sunlight. Simone Feldman, from the Weston team, smirks down at me with a gloating expression in her green eyes.

But then, much to my enjoyment, someone knocks into her, making her stumble. She falters, but she doesn’t fall, and I laugh, seeing her knocked off her high pedestal. Thank you, Dylan.

I glance to the left and see exactly who I expected to see. Dylan, my brother Jared’s daughter, who’s only two years younger and on the same team as me, runs backward, toward the goal, grinning at me.

Simone and everyone else move on, leaving me behind, too.

“Get up, Quinn!”

I hood my eyes and groan, recognizing the voice behind me. Standing up, I spin around to see Madoc as he tosses his black suit jacket on a bleacher and loosens his light blue tie. He must’ve rushed here after work to see the game.

“Shake it off!” he orders, clapping his hands like Jax. “Let’s go!”

I roll my eyes and turn back around, powering on. There are a million other things I’d rather be doing—journaling, cooking, swimming . . . homework, laundry, getting a cavity filled—but Madoc, Jax, and my dad, for that matter love having their kids in sports. For my brothers, it’s exercise and good, clean fun. For my father, it’s trophies on a wall and another extracurricular for my college resumes.

Not that I need soccer anymore, anyway. My admission to Notre Dame next fall is secure.

“So.” Madoc comes up after our win, hooks an arm around my neck, and plants a kiss on the top of my head. “I had this great idea where you could maybe intern with my campaign over the summer.”

“You mean you had this great idea where you could get free, easy labor.”

I hear him tsk like that’s sooooo not what he was thinking, but I know Madoc. He’s my most fun-loving brother, he’s easy to talk to, and I always feel most at ease around him, but he’s also used to getting anything and everything he wants.

And while I’m sure he wouldn’t mind paying someone to work with his campaign, he can bend me and boss me around a lot easier than someone he barely knows.

“Come on,” he says, trying to work me already. “You’re polite, well-spoken, and you follow directions. Plus you’re family. I won’t get accused of getting kinky with an intern.”

I snort, despite myself. He can always make me laugh.

But I tell him, “I have other plans. Ones that are far more fun than sitting in a cubicle all summer and cold-calling voters, begging them to make you mayor.”

“Plans? Like what?”

I shrug and pull out my ponytail and elastic headband. “I thought of traveling.”

I don’t look at him, but it takes him a moment to respond.

“Why haven’t I heard about this until now?” he asks.

Because I haven’t made definite plans. Because I haven’t told anyone. Because I have no idea where I want to go or what I want to see.

Because Dad will never let me go.

“Have you talked to Dad about it?” he asks.

I stuff my towel and hair ties back into my backpack, ignoring him.

“Quinn, as much as I’d love to see you spread your wings, there’s no way he’s going to allow it.” He hands me my water bottle. “You know you need months to prepare him for something like that, and he would never let you go alone.” And then he adds, his tone turning clipped, “And if he did, I wouldn’t. Besides, I thought you both decided you’d take the summer and get ahead with some courses at Clarke before going off to Notre Dame in the fall.”

Jesus.

I keep my expression impassive, trying not to look annoyed. In a few months, I really will be gone, and then I’ll miss Madoc—and everyone else—so I’m trying not to act like a brat.

I swing the backpack strap over my shoulder. “Yeah, I know. Forget I said it. It’s just something I was tossing around.” I roll my eyes at him, turning it into a joke with a smirk. “I guess I’ll try to wait until after college to start living my life.”

“’Atta girl.” He gives me a light punch on the arm, grinning. “Besides, you know Jared has events lined up all summer, and with Pasha busy setting up the production line in Toronto, who’s going to handle his scheduling? And then Jax and Juliet will need your special touch up at the summer camp for the planning of the fireworks show on the Fourth, and—”

“And yada yada yada . . . I know!” I grumble. “I can’t be replaced. No one else can do what I do, right?!”

“Of course not, Quinn-for-the-Win. We need you.”

I shake my head and walk around him, heading for the locker room.

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