Home > Without Merit

Without Merit
Author: Colleen Hoover

Chapter One

I have an impressive collection of trophies that I did not win.

Most of them I purchased from thrift stores or garage sales. Two of them I got from my father for my seventeenth birthday. Only one of them I stole.

My stolen trophy is probably my least favorite one. I took it from Drew Waldrup’s bedroom right after he broke up with me. We had been dating two months and it was the first time I allowed him to put his hand all the way up my shirt. I was thinking about how nice it felt, when he looked down at me and said, “I don’t think I want to date you anymore, Merit.”

There I was, enjoying his hand on my boob, and all the while he was thinking of how he never wanted his hand on my boob again. I stoically slid out from under him and stood up. After straightening out my shirt, I walked over to his bookshelf and snatched the biggest trophy he had. He never said a word. I figured if he dumped me with his hand up my shirt, I should at least get a trophy for it.

That district championship football trophy was actually the start of my collection. From there, I’d pick up random trophies from garage sales or thrift shops any time something shitty happened.

Fail my driving test? First place in shot put.

Don’t get asked to junior prom? All-star cast in one-act play.

My father proposes to his mistress? Little league team champions.

It’s been two years since I stole that first trophy. I have twelve trophies now, although far more than twelve shitty things have happened to me since Drew Waldrup broke up with me. But it’s surprisingly difficult to find unwanted trophies. Which is why I’m here at a local antiques shop, eyeing the seventh place pageant trophy I’ve been wanting since I first saw it six months ago. It’s about a foot and a half tall and it’s from a 1972 Dallas pageant called Boots and Beauties.

I like it because of the ridiculous pageant title, but I love it because of the gold-plated woman on top of the trophy. She’s wearing a ball gown, a tiara, and a pair of boots with spurs. Everything about it is absurd. Especially the eighty-five-dollar price tag. But I’ve been saving up for it since I first laid eyes on it and I finally have enough money to purchase it.

I grab the trophy and turn to walk toward the register when I notice a guy on the second floor of the antiques store. He’s leaning over the railing, staring at me. His chin is resting casually in one of his hands like he’s been in that position for a while. He smiles as soon as we make eye contact.

I smile back, which is a bit out of character for me. I’m not the type to flirt and I’m definitely not the type to know how to reciprocate when someone flirts with me. But his smile is pleasant and he isn’t even on the same floor as me, so I don’t feel threatened by potential embarrassment.

“What are you doing?” he calls out.

Naturally, I look over my shoulder to see if he’s directing his comment at me. Maybe the guy isn’t looking at me and he’s talking to someone behind me. But other than a mother who braved the antiques store with her little boy, there isn’t anyone else in my vicinity. And the woman and her child are both facing the opposite direction, so he must be referring to me.

I look back up at him and he’s still looking down at me with that same smile. “I’m buying a trophy!”

I think I might like his smile, but he’s a little too far away for me to tell if I’d be attracted to him. His confidence is attractive in itself. He has dark hair and it’s a bit choppy and spastic but I’m not judging because I don’t think I’ve brushed my own hair since yesterday morning. He’s wearing a gray hoodie with the sleeves shoved above his elbows. Tattoos cover the arm his chin is resting on, but I can’t make them out from down here. From here, he looks a little too young and a little too tattooed to be browsing for antiques on a random weekday morning, but who am I to judge? I should be in school right now.

I turn around and pretend to shop, but I’m aware that he’s watching me. I try to ignore it, but every now and then I’ll glance back up at him to make sure he’s still there. He is.

Maybe he works here and that’s why he’s lingering, but it wouldn’t explain why he won’t stop staring at me. If this is his idea of flirting, it’s a strange way to flirt. But sadly, I’m attracted to unconventional and strange. So the entire time I browse the store I force myself to seem unaffected, when in reality, I’m very affected. I can feel his stare with every step I take. Stares shouldn’t have weight, but knowing his eyes are on me makes my steps feel heavier. It even makes my stomach feel heavier.

I’ve already looked at everything in the store, but I don’t want to check out yet and leave because I’m enjoying this game too much.

I attend a very small public school in a very small town. And when I say small, I’m being generous. There is an average of twenty kids in each grade. Not class. Grade.

My entire senior class consists of twenty-two students. Twelve girls and ten guys. Eight of those ten guys have been in class with me since I was five. That narrows the dating field quite a bit. It’s hard to find someone attractive that you’ve spent almost every day of your life with since you were five years old.

But I have no idea who this guy is that’s made me the center of his attention. Which means I’m already more attracted to him than any person in my entire school, simply because I don’t know him.

I pause on an aisle that’s clearly visible from where he’s standing and I pretend to be interested in one of the signs displayed on the shelf. It’s an old white sign with the word SHAFT written on it and an arrow pointing to the right. It makes me laugh. Next to it is an old sign that looks to be from a gas station. It says LUBRICANT. It makes me wonder if someone placed the sexually suggestive signs together or if it was random. If I had enough money, I’d buy them and start a sexually suggestive sign collection for my bedroom. But my trophy habit is expensive enough.

The little boy who has been browsing the store with his mother is standing a couple of feet away from me now. He looks to be about four or five years old. The same age as my little brother, Moby. His mother has told him no less than ten times not to touch anything, but he picks up the glass pig sitting on the shelf in front of us. Why are kids so drawn to fragile things? His eyes are bright as he inspects it. I appreciate that his curiosity is more important to him than following his mother’s orders. “Mom, can I have this?”

His mother is an aisle over digging through a rack of old magazines. She doesn’t even turn around to look at what he’s holding. She just says, “No.”

The boy’s eyes dim immediately and he frowns as he goes to set the pig back on the shelf. But his little hands fumble when he tries to set it down and the pig slips from his grasp, shattering at his feet.

“Don’t move,” I say to him, reaching him before his mother does. I bend down and start picking up the pieces.

His mother plucks him up and sets him a few feet away so that he’s out of reach of the glass. “I told you not to touch anything, Nate!”

I glance over at the little boy and he’s staring at the broken glass like he just lost his best friend. His mother presses her hand to her forehead like she’s exhausted and frustrated, and then bends down and starts helping me pick up the pieces.

“He didn’t do it,” I say to her. “I’m the one who broke it.”

The woman looks back at her little boy and her little boy looks at me like he doesn’t know if this is a test. I wink at him before she turns back around and I say, “I didn’t see him standing there. I bumped into him and dropped it.”

She looks surprised, and maybe even a bit guilty for assuming her son did it. “Oh,” she says. She continues to help me pick up the larger shards of glass. The man who was standing at the register when I walked in appears out of nowhere with a broom and a dustpan.

“I’ll take it from here,” he says. But then he points to a sign on the wall that reads YOU BREAK IT, YOU BUY IT.

The woman takes her little boy’s hand and walks away. The little boy glances over his shoulder and smiles at me and it makes taking the blame so worth it. I return my attention to the man with the broom. “How much was it?”

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