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I lie down on my soft duvet after lunch, listening to the faint sound of yells outside and the incessant ticking of the analog clock on the wall. I don't know what I've been pondering most for the last hour: why I was Willow's only target, why she had to follow me here, or what's changed so quickly.

When will I get my revenge, or if I have to get it at all?

I place my feet on the ground beside me again and realize it's pointless to lock myself in my room alone, giving her power even in my head.

Besides, I can't bail on Axel so soon.

I tug on black leggings and change into a white long sleeve, noting the muggy afternoon weather—aka mosquito heaven. I lace up my black Adidas sneakers and head out of my room, making sure to fully shut the door behind me and scan the hallway twice before leaving.

Axel and I meet at the rope climbing fixture in the woods, which somehow seems smaller a week away from it. As we breeze through some dynamic stretches, I don't tell him that I wish we were running today, so I can take out the rest of my annoyance on a couple thousand angry steps.

"Do you need me to demonstrate again?" he asks, cracking his knuckles. He didn't get the memo that today is insect bite heaven, sporting a sleeveless shirt. I don't complain, admiring the lines in his tight muscles when he grasps the rope.

"Uh, sure," I reply, snapping out of it, "why not?"

Like every other athletic skill, he performs it like it's nothing, effortlessly gliding to the top of the unrelenting rope. This time around, he adds some commentary for how I should approach each pull, and more excitement than apprehension fills my mind.

I decide not to overthink the activity and jump as high as I can into the air. My grip vice-like, I pull myself up while fumbling with the end of the rope at my feet. Axel hovers below me, arms ready to catch my struggling body at any time. His presence motivates me to impress him for once, and with all my little might, I drag myself up the first third of the rope.

"Nice job, keep up that form," Axel comments from below, moving out of the way. "You think you can keep going?"

The coarse rope bites my soft palms, and my core aches from hard I'm clenching it, but I still yell back a yes. I walk my hands up about a foot and draw my knees closer to my chest, squinting as the cloud-covered sun shines in my face. As I push my feet together and extend my body, I notice the top is almost tangible now. But the pain in my hands is unbearable, still unused to the strain climbing puts on them.

"If you can't keep going, start to slowly walk yourself down," he calls, tilting his head up. I look down at his warm hazel eyes, creasing with sympathy, and feel less bad about myself. "Come on, Whit, you got this."

Whit? That nickname is forever associated with family members or close friends, too unprofessional for everyday life. But I've always loved it, and I like it even more coming from his mouth.

In my distraction, I let my sweaty palms drag down the rest of the rope, sending me careening to the dirt ground. Axel's hands lock onto either side of my waist to keep me on my feet. I stumble backwards and find my back flush against his chest, my heavy breaths to his.

"You good?" he asks, taking a step back. I nod, noticing the one hand still on my waist. He removes it. "I thought you had the descent at first."

I clear my throat, choosing to stare at my palms to hide my embarrassment. They're red and slightly puffy, probably the same color as my cheeks. "Sorry, I got distracted. I don't even know what I was thinking about." Liar. At least I did stop thinking about Willow for a good twenty minutes. "Can I try it again?"

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