A love so sweet, it feels like a sugar rush. But everything that soars so high must crash down eventually… right? Get ready for a romance so electrically written, so compulsively devourable, that you won’t be able to look away even as it turns rotten.
In ALWAYS FOREVER MAYBE, one of the most GORGEOUS books of the summer (seriously, look at those colors!), Betts and Aiden’s relationship seems to explode out of their first meeting at the candy shop where Betts works. But her best friend doesn’t approve. But Jo just doesn’t understand, right? That’s the role of the jealous best friend in these stories, after all. But Jo sees things that Betts might be looking past. Like how needy Aiden is. How possessive. How controlling.
We read ALWAYS FOREVER MAYBE in a single sitting, and we guarantee you’ll devour this tale of toxic love all the same. So scroll down, and start reading!
It would be easier if he were dead.
I hate myself the second the thought enters my brain. Hate myself for thinking it, and hate even more that it’s true.
Of course it’s not true.
I swallow against the thickness building in my throat as I hitch my bag up on my shoulder and push toward my locker, ignoring the murmurs, ignoring the stares. I don’t care what they’re saying. I don’t care what anyone thinks. I only care that Aiden—
No. I can’t even think his name. I have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, on moving forward and making it through this minute, this hour, this day. Without him.
I blink to keep my eyeballs from exploding under the pressure of the tears I won’t let fall. I breathe in and try to force the sound of screeching tires and crashing metal out of my brain. He’s still alive, I remind myself. He might wake up. He might forgive me. It’s too many maybes.
“Hey, Betts,” someone says. I keep walking. “Bee,” she calls again. “That ring you wear—is it from Aiden?”
I stop. Turn. Stare.
Cicily and two of her spirit-squad clones stand in their game-day uniforms of matching skirts and matching smirks, assessing me from head to toe. I don’t even know what outfit I pulled on this morning, and I’m certainly not going to look. My fingers fly to the ring on my right hand, shielding it from Cicily’s gaze. I can’t believe she just asked me that.
I will not give her the satisfaction of watching me disintegrate. “Mm-hmm,” I manage.
“Did your parents freak out? Mine would flip,” one of the clones says. “You guys seem really cute together, though.” She tucks a lock of hair behind one ear and blinks her bovine eyes. It hits me that she’s not trying to be cruel.
Oh god, they don’t know. How could they not have heard—
“Is he coming again after school today?” Cicily asks. She winks. Winks.
I think I might vomit. “No,” I say. I somehow don’t choke on the word.
The third girl twists her necklace around her finger and smiles. “Where did you even meet him? I need to find me a guy like that.” The others laugh and the girl adds, “Vroom, vroom.” They laugh harder.
I shake her words out of my head. I can’t have this conversation. Can’t pretend it’s okay. Can’t pretend he isn’t gone. Can’t pretend it’s not my fault.
I turn around and run.
I met him in a candy store.
It was a Sunday afternoon in February, near the end of my shift at the Sugar Shack. I’d been working since ten and had a killer headache from the secondhand sugar high gnawing my brain from all sides. Only thirteen more minutes until I could clock out, but those minutes were dragging like a school assembly on the dangers of jaywalking and meth. I was so ready to release my hair from its too-tight ponytail, ditch my apron and the stupid Hey, Sugar visor Mr. Sugarman (yes, really) made us wear, and head out the door. Not that I was eager to rush home for Sunday dinner with my parents. The whole point of this job, besides cash and next year’s tuition, was to buy myself more time away from them.
When the bells on the front door jingled, I didn’t look up, just kept wiping the grubby fingerprints and streaks of I-don’t-even-want-to-know-what off the ice cream case and left the customer care to Lexa. I actually liked cleaning and she actually liked customers, so our shifts always worked out pretty well.
“Welcome to the Sugar Shack!” she chirped at whoever’d walked in.
“Uh, hi,” he said. I sprayed another blast of disinfectant across the glass and took a deep sniff. I didn’t care if it was killing my brain cells. The sharp tingle of bleach-y chemicals was a welcome change from the candy dust and ice cream air I’d been inhaling all day. It had been a mistake to drink that second root beer on my break earlier, too. I would have killed for some water, three Advil, and a salt lick. “Do you guys have any of those chewy candy frogs?” the customer asked.
“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry,” Lexa said. I knew without having to look that she was putting her hand to her chest to hold back the tide of empathy. Even in a freaking candy shop, Lexa was the sweetest thing around. She was like a human kitten, all tiny, wide-eyed, and adorable. If she weren’t my best friend’s twin brother’s girlfriend, I would have had to hate her. “We usually do but we’re all out today. Can I help you find something else? We have gummi sharks, gummi worms, gummi dinosaurs, gummi fish…and gummi bears, of course.”
“Wow. A whole zoo,” the guy said.
Scrub scrub scrub. Working at the Shack was largely thankless, but I did get a weird satisfaction out of cleaning like a maniac. And in a candy-store-slash-ice-cream-shoppe, there were endless sticky, sugar-smeared surfaces to wipe. I spent most of my shift downtimes with a rag in hand. Lexa spent most of hers texting Eric.
“My favorites are the gummi octopi,” Lexa offered. “They’re tasty and cute, and we have them in three colors.”
I gazed at the neon lollipop clock, willing it to tick faster. Eight minutes.
“Yeah, no, it has to be frogs. It’s my little sister’s birthday. She’s going through a frog phase.”
I peeked at the guy’s back. Tall. Leather jacket. Shaggy haircut. Tight jeans. I wondered if he played drums in a band or only wished that he did. “We have gummi geckos,” I said. “You could get some of those and bite their tails off.”
He turned around. Our eyes met, and the slow, sure smile he gave wrapped itself around my chest, squeezed out the air, stopped my heart, and changed everything I knew about anything. At least, it felt that way, since for a few seconds I somehow neglected to breathe.
The cute boys who came into the Sugar Shack were usually eight, not eighteen, and they stopped being cute the moment they opened their mouths and started whining for their parents to buy them something. This boy’s mouth held a different kind of danger. That smile was delicious.
I steadied myself against the countertop as he solemnly shook his head. “She’s too smart. I’d never get away with it.”
I didn’t believe that for a second. He looked like he could get away with anything.
“How about a candy crown?” Lexa said, breaking the spell. “You know, like a ‘kiss enough frogs and you’ll find your prince’ kind of thing?”
His lashes were unfairly long. Winter had pinked his pale cheeks above the stubble on his perfect jaw. I had never seen a boy look so pretty yet rugged. “She’s not into kissing. She studies them. She wants to be a frog scientist.”
“A herpetologist,” I said, letting my dork flag unfurl. It flapped in the breeze of embarrassment.
But Drummer Boy looked impressed. “Exactly.”
“Well, give her time,” I said, like some braver, bolder version of myself. “I hear that nerd girls make the best kissers.”
He drew back. “She’s nine. And my sister.”
I tried not to die. “Right. Sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“It’s okay.” That smile again. It was an offer and a challenge, both at once.
He glanced at the name tag pinned to my chest. Despite the ridiculous visor, I was grateful to be in uniform. True, the Sugar Shack apron covered whatever hint of boob might theoretically have been present, but it also made me look like I actually had a waist. And while I had never looked anything but comical in the tops, scarves, or skirts I’d tried on where there was some kind of ruffle involved, somehow the flounce at the hem of this thing just worked on me. It may have been the most flattering piece of clothing I’d worn, and it leveled the playing field at least a little by flattening out Lexa’s amazing rack. The apron was the great equalizer. Also, I liked the pockets.
“Bee, actually. Or Betts.” He arched an eyebrow and I nearly growled with envy. I’d always wished one of my eyebrows could do that. “It’s a long story,” I said.
“Bee.” He considered that with a head tilt. “I like it. It fits. It’s kind of…cute but sharp. Like a cupcake with thorns.”
A shot of pride rushed through me at the weird sort-of compliment. Normally I would bristle at someone I just met acting like he had me all figured out, but this guy—I felt like whatever he wanted me to be, I’d be it.
No. Whatever he wanted me to be, that’s what I already was.
It was my turn to speak, but I pressed my lips shut. If I allowed them to open, I might blurt some awful truth like, This feeling reminds me of Ferris wheels or I could stare at your face until sunrise. Our fizz-and-snap, Pop Rocks connection was making me loopy. Silence was far safer.
His mouth twitched in the pause. “I’m Aiden,” he said.
“Aiden,” I said, trying it out. It felt right. Everything about him felt right. “Nice to meet you.”
He held my gaze. “Likewise.”
Saying more could be catastrophic. I stared and blinked instead.
He waited. I stared and blinked some more.
“Well, Bee or Betts,” he said, pulling on the wool hat he’d been holding, “the frog hunt continues.” He looked straight at me. “I’ll see you around.” It sounded like a promise.
With a quick nod to Lexa, Aiden pushed open the door. “Have a sweet day!” she called after him.
A whoosh of freezing air burst in, and he was gone. I shivered, less from the cold and more from the certainty that everything in my life was about to change. I stood in the space he’d left behind. Endless possibility unrolled at my feet.
Lexa flipped over the sign on the door, so COME ON IN, SUGAR was facing us. She didn’t seem to notice the world had shifted. “My turn to close up, right?” she said when I still hadn’t moved.
I reached back and yanked at the strings of my apron. I needed to call Jo.
I stood in the north hallway, unwrapping miles of scarf from around my neck and stuffing them into my locker with the hat, gloves, coat, sweater, and leg warmers I’d just shed. The school was way overheated, as usual, but outside it was nineteen degrees before windchill. Living here on the Niagara Frontier, you learned to layer. It was an art.
Jo appeared at my side and handed me a baggie. “Kitchen Bitch delivery.”
“Mmm, what is it?”
I held them up for inspection.
“No raisins,” she said. “What do you think I am?”
I took one out. “You’re the best.”
“They have pecans, though. Toasted for flavor and chopped up for texture. I might break instead of chop next time.”
My mouth was already full. “Whatever you did, they’re delicious,” I said, one hand at my lips to hold back the crumbs. The cookies were slightly chewy but buttery soft, with a nutty, caramelized aftertaste. One of the 8,400,237 things I was going to miss about Jo next year—was practically already missing in anticipation of being torn apart by college in six months, a near-future that seemed both too imminent and far, far away—was this: her baking. She was truly talented.
“That’s why they call me a masterbaker,” she said.
I swallowed. “No one masterbakes as vigorously as you do. It’s amazing your palms aren’t hairier. You’ll probably go blind, though.”
“Don’t worry, that won’t stop me from turning up the heat. And beating and churning. Daily,” she added.
“Nice.” I pulled a cat hair off her shirt and flicked it to the floor.
“Thanks,” she said.
I dug my chem notebook out of my locker, shoved my backpack inside, and slammed the door shut. “Ready?”
Jo turned and nearly tripped over OJ, who was kneeling on the floor by the locker next to mine, with her papers spread everywhere. “Whoops! Sorry,” Jo said, stepping on one paper then another as she tried to catch her balance and move out of the way.
“Jerk-off,” OJ muttered, followed by something unintelligible. I walked away quickly so she wouldn’t see me smiling and decide I was laughing at her. OJ definitely wasn’t known for her great sense of humor.
Jo was grinning too. She wiggled her eyebrows beneath her straight black bangs. “Do you want to get floats at the Shack later? In case he drops by?” I shook my head and fed my face a consolation cookie. She was only mirroring my excitement from what I’d told her last night, but the morning after my Aiden encounter, that excitement seemed way overblown. So we’d flirted. So what? That didn’t mean anything would happen. If he went to my school, I would already know. There were only about 130 kids in each class, and most of us started here in middle school.
I dodged a crying freshman. “Yeah, no.” I wanted to find a way to see him again, but I’d feel pathetic if I were sitting there waiting for him to show—which he wouldn’t, so, even worse. “I hate being there when I’m not on shift. I start feeling like I should be cleaning things.”
“You always feel like you should be cleaning things.” She had a point. “So come over after school. Tell your parents we need to study for history. Mention Eric so they’ll say yes.” My parents adored Eric. They liked Jo, too, but they were suckers for her twin. And they were right: Eric was a Very Nice Boy.
“We do need to study for history,” I said.
“Correct. And I need to tell you about my new crush.”
“Wait, what? Who?” This was news. Jo’s crushes were extremely rare and selective—as opposed to mine, which tended to be frequent but fleeting, cautiously approached, and easily abandoned when no reciprocal interest was shown, which it never was. The primary thing the few guys I’d kissed had in common was they all had crushed on me first. I’d sparked to that interest, to the thrill of being wanted, as much as to the guys themselves. It was one of the million things about my connection with Aiden that felt so completely different: I wanted him as much as I hoped he wanted me. But Jo would never sell herself short the way I had too often done.
She wriggled in her own dramatic pause. “Sydney.”
I stopped. “Sydney MacKenna?”
She looked about ready to burst into song and possibly sprout butterfly wings. “Uh-huh.”
I touched her sleeve to ground her. “Recently-rumored-to-be-hooking-up-with-Benji-Watts Sydney MacKenna?”
Jo nodded, still beaming. “She’s in my math class.”
“Whoa.” We kept walking. “So you’ve finally given up on the fox from Robin Hood.”
She elbowed me in the gut and I tried not to squawk. “Mmm, the foxy fox. Nah, he’s still top of the list. It’s not like I’m swearing off guys completely. But I was stalking her a little online last night, and I realized I want to put my face in her face. Like, now. I am smitten.”
“Cool. So, what’s your plan?”
She shrugged. “I’m gonna wing it and see what happens. You’re the one who always needs a plan, not me.”
I tried not to flinch, but Jo saw it anyway. She pounced, wrapping me into a bear hug in the middle of the hallway. “Stop it,” she lectured. “Fuck what Tyson said. And don’t take it as a bad thing. You know I love you exactly the way you are.”
I squeezed her back, but the memory of my ex-boyfriend accusing me of being “too uptight” and “incapable of spontaneity”—while also admitting he’d been cheating on me all month—still smarted, weeks later. No, it still raked my gut with its toenails, shredded my dignity with its claws, and punctured my heart with its teeth. Luckily Jo was a human tourniquet. And at least I hadn’t slept with him.
“The right guy will appreciate all those things about you too,” she said. “And maybe you’ll find it’s easier to be more relaxed in your next relationship because you won’t be dating an unreliable, emotionally abusive shithead.”
I squirmed out of the hug. “Okay.” I wanted to believe it. “But in my defense, I don’t have a plan. Right now. About Aiden. I’m trying to just, like, take it as it comes. If it comes.” I was also trying to be realistic. The chances of us running into each other again in a city of 260,000 people were, I had to admit, slim. It would probably only happen if he came back to the Shack to find me, and managed to do so on a day when I was working. More likely he would forget about me, or possibly already had.
“I’m sorry I said it that way. You know I want you to help me strategize.”
That part I could do. And I liked feeling needed. “Well, first we should find out if it’s true she’s got a thing with the quarterback. That seems like crucial information for us to have.”
“Right. That’s step one. And if it’s true, then step two is that I beat him up after school?”
I shook my head. I worried for her about Sydney being both straight and taken, but if she preferred to joke about it, I would follow her lead. “Nope. You challenge him to a duel. It’s classier and more romantic. Shows how much you value her. And it’s a good excuse to wear a cape.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Maybe I could skip the violence and offer her parents a higher dowry. Reverse dowry?”
“It’s called a bride price,” I said.
She shot me the obligatory you read too much look, then jumped. “I’ll outbid him for her on eBay! That’s the modern way to get the girl.”
“It beats throwing rocks at her window.”
We stopped outside the door to my homeroom. Jo leaned against a locker. “Seriously, though. Tell me what you think I should do.”
“I will,” I said. “But we do need more information.”
“All I know about her is she’s hot and smart and awesome. She uses black felt micro-tip pens, even for math, and doodles in her notebooks constantly. And she went on that date with Jeremy Packer last year where he took her to the zoo and tried to kiss her in front of the monkey cage, but the monkeys started screaming and pelting him with their poop, so he ran off and left her there, and everyone called him Monkey See, Monkey Doo-Doo for like a month. But that tells you more about him than her, I guess.”
“Is that even true?” I asked.
Jo shrugged. “Who cares? It’s a great story.”
“At least it sets the bar for dates pretty low.”
The first bell rang and Jo straightened. “That’s my cue,” she said. “I’ll see you later. Don’t cry.”
That was my cue. “I’m not crying. My eyeballs are drooling for more oatmeal cookies.”
“Good,” she called, walking away. “You’ll have some. After school. Text your parents!”
I waved at her back and ducked into class.
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