Elite (Empire High, #2)(9)

I screamed when he swooped me into his arms. My eyes flew open.

“You’re terrible at keeping your eyes closed,” he said.

“You left me.”

“I didn’t leave you. I just needed to grab something real quick. Now close your eyes.”

I followed his directions as he started to carry me somewhere. The farther we walked the better it smelled. I’d barely touched my food last night and I’d been in too much of a hurry to eat breakfast. I prayed my stomach wouldn’t make that same embarrassing rumble that it had last night.

Matt stopped walking and set me down on my feet. He put his hand over my eyes and turned me just so. “Here it is,” he said. “The best view in the city.” He pulled his hand away from my face.

I opened my eyes and smiled. We were standing on a little bridge with water stretched out in front of us.

“I used to come here with my family and feed the ducks when I was little. Sometimes we’d stay in the park so late that we’d eat at that restaurant over there.” He pointed across the water at a cute little place. “My favorite part of those days was walking through Central Park after the sun set. Because at night that restaurant turns on tons of fairy lights on their outdoor patio. It lights up the water and looks like the stars. Seeing it makes the city feel more like home.”

Matt’s house was anything but homey. But he lived in the suburbs right outside the city. So I understood what he meant. No matter where you were, if you could see the stars, there was some sense of familiarity. I’d felt it on the fire escape at my uncle’s apartment. Back then I wished I could go home back to Delaware when I stared at the stars. And now? I didn’t even really know where home was anymore. Just thinking about the word made me want to cry. My uncle’s home had become my home. And now he was gone too.

“I know you lost your family,” Matt said. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t have one.”

I could feel my eyes watering.

“Brooklyn Sanders,” he said and dropped to one knee.

My heart started racing. “Matt, what are you doing?”

A smile stretched across his perfect face. “Will you…” He reached behind his back.

Was he seriously about to propose to me? Had he lost his mind? We were sixteen. We couldn’t be engaged!

“…be my girlfriend?” he asked.

“What is wrong with you?” I said with a laugh. “You scared me half to death.” I put my hands on his shoulders when he didn’t get up off one knee.

“That isn’t an answer.” He stared up at me. “I know we’ve been together for a while now, but I realized we never actually made it official. Will you? Be my girlfriend?”

He was the sweetest person I had ever met. “Yes.” I was smiling so hard it hurt. But as I stared down at him, I knew I needed more from him. Because I was barely holding on as it was. And he’d hurt me before. I didn’t want him to do it again. “As long as you promise not to break my heart. Because it already feels broken and I can’t…” I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to cry. He was being wonderful and I refused to ruin this moment. “I can’t handle you breaking it too.”

“I’ll never hurt your heart. You’re my forever, Brooklyn.” He smiled up at me.

I was pretty sure he looked as happy as me. “Get up,” I said with a laugh. I wanted his arms around me.

Instead of standing, he pulled out what he’d been hiding behind his back. And I was relieved it wasn’t a jewelry box. “And since you’re now part of my family, I thought maybe you could adopt some of my family’s traditions.” He handed me one of the foil packets he was holding as he stood up. “I know you like to eat healthy. Sometimes you need a little comfort food though. And whatever you don’t eat you can feed to the birds.”

I pulled back one of the layers of foil and laughed. “I don’t think ducks like hotdogs.”

“But they do like bread.” He tore a piece of bread off his hotdog bun and tossed it in the water. Sure enough, one of the ducks swam over and grabbed the bread in his beak.

I smiled as I watched the water ripple where the bread had been. The duck slowly swam away to find more food.

“You need to eat something,” Matt said. “Please.”

I looked up at him. And for the first time I could see how worried he was about me. I could feel him staring at the dark circles under my eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had lost some weight. The last few days had been terrible. I smiled to help reassure him, and then took a bite of the hotdog. “Oh my God, this is so freaking good.”

He laughed. “I thought you might like it.”

“Where did you even get this?” I looked over my shoulder at the empty path.

“The best hotdog vendor is just right over there.” He pointed down a path in the opposite direction, but I couldn’t see any farther because of the trees. “There’s so many things about this city that I can’t wait to show you. Stick with me and this will feel like home in no time.”

I tried to hide my smile as I took another bite. I had no problem sticking with him. The issue was that it was hard to stick to someone who wasn’t allowed to be seen with you in public. “So you told your mom about me, huh?”

He nodded.

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