“Beth.” Books slam on my desk and the three of us flinch and look up. Black hair, nose ring, and a form-fitting white shirt unbuttoned recklessly close to areas where guys stare. Well, at least where I stare. Good God almighty, the girl’s hot.
“I’m going to say this slowly and use little words in the hope you can follow along. If you call me Elisabeth again, I’ll make sure you can never father children. Tell anyone else whose niece I am and you’ll be sucking air out of a tube in your throat.”
Chris laughs and it’s the deep, throaty kind that tells me the shit we’re entering is bad. “It’s nice to meet you. Ryan just told us how badly he wanted to call you, didn’t you, Ry?”
Ding-ding, Chris rang the bell for round two and he’s in direct violation of game play by interfering. Well played, because I would have done the same damn thing. “I tried looking for you this morning, but the secretary said you were in a meeting with Mr. Dwyer.”
Her blue eyes pierce me, and an eyebrow slowly arches toward her hairline. The silence stretching between us becomes excruciating.
Chris shifts in his seat and Logan slouches lower by an inch. I will her to leave, but I need her presence to win the dare. I focus on keeping my face relaxed. If I even breathe, Skater Girl will know she has the upper hand.
“Uh-huh,” she finally responds. “I’m sure you did. Suck-ups do that type of thing. Here’s the deal. I avoid you, you avoid me, and when my uncle asks if you helped me today I’ll giggle like one of those pathetic girls standing in the hallway and gush about how poor, defenseless me couldn’t make it in the big, mean school without big, strong Ryan to help me out.”
“You can giggle?” asks Logan.
She glares at him. He shrugs. “You don’t strike me as the giggling type—just saying.”
Damn, Logan entered game play too, which means he’ll want to place money on the dare. Time to salvage. “This is Chris and Logan. They play baseball with me. Chris has a girlfriend who I’m sure you’ll love and if you want, you can sit with us today during lunch.”
“Dear God, you really are brain damaged.”
The bell rings and Skater Girl goes to the opposite side of the room and holes up in the corner. That went well. My friends both wear smiles that make me want to kick their asses.
“Twenty she curses you out by lunch,” says Chris.
“Thirty she kills you by lunch,” adds Logan.
“I’m getting her number.” The two of them laugh, and the muscles in my biceps tighten at the thought of another loss. The paper in my notebook crinkles in my fist. “You don’t think I’ve got game?”
“Not enough game for that,” says Logan.
“I’ll prove you wrong.” Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse Beth. With her head down and her long black hair hiding her face, she doodles in a notebook with a pen in her left hand. Huh—a southpaw.
Chris shakes his head. “Sorry, dawg. Beth attending Bullitt High is a rule-changing event.
See, phone numbers are for those we will never see again. You have months to work her. You want a win, then the stakes are raised—you have to ask her out and she has to accept.”
“And the date has to be at a public venue for no less than an hour,” adds Logan. “You know, to keep it legit.”
I shouldn’t do it. If I mess this up, I could tick off Scott Risk; but then again, if I work this right, I could have Scott Risk eating out of the palm of my hand. He all but begged me to become friends with the spawn of Satan over there. Plus, if I walk away from this opportunity, it means I lost and I don’t lose.
“Fine,” I say. “Dare accepted.”
Game on, Skater Girl. Game on.
I NEED A CIGARETTE and a smoker who will trust me. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across either of those in my four hours of living the teen version of Deliverance. From a distance, while the juniors and seniors head to lunch, I follow two guys with long hair and sagging jeans. I hope I can convince one of them to give me a drag.
They round a corner and I give them a sec. If I approach before they light up, they’ll try to act cool like they aren’t doing anything. Then there will be nothing I can say to convince them I won’t snitch.
Hell, I wouldn’t believe me. The new girl in a white button-down shirt.
I’ve given them long enough. I turn the corner, prepared to tell them to chill, but the words catch in my mouth. They aren’t there.
It’s a short hallway with double doors leading out. I hurry to the window and watch as the two guys duck and weave through the parking lot. My head smacks the door. Damn. I never thought they’d skip. First day. That’s hard-core.
At the sound of a knock, my heart kicks out of my chest and with one glance out the window it melts. It’s him. My body sags with relief. It’s really him. I press the door open and the moment the warm summer sun caresses my face, Isaiah gathers me into his arms.
Normally, I wouldn’t do this—touch him so aware. Today, I don’t mind. In fact, I bury myself in him.
“It’s okay.” Isaiah kisses my hair and his hand cradles the back of my head, keeping me close. He kissed me. This embrace should bother me and I should push him away. We don’t connect like this. Not sober. Today, his touch entices me to hold him tighter.
“How did you know?” I mumble against the material of his shirt.
“Figured you’d come out for a smoke at some point. This is the only place anyone has been doing it.”
His heart has a strong, steady rhythm.
There were times, in my search for weightlessness, that I pushed too hard. Drank too much. Inhaled more than I should. Became physical with guys who were no good for me. I would go beyond weightlessness as a balloon on a string that had been snapped—left alone in a frightening abyss. With one touch, Isaiah could ground me. Keep me from floating away with his arms as my anchor. His steady beating heart the reminder he would never let go.
With reluctance, I put space between us.
“How did you know I’d be at this school?”
“I’ll explain it to you later. Let’s go before we get caught.” He holds his hand out to me.
“Where?” I play along, knowing what my answer will be. I want the fantasy—if only for a second.
“Wherever you want. You once said that you wanted to see the ocean. Let’s go to the ocean, Beth. We can live there.”
The ocean. The scene comes alive in my mind. Me in a pair of old faded jeans and a tank top. My hair blowing wildly in the breeze.
Isaiah with his hair buzzed short and shirt off, his tattoos frightening the tourists as they stroll by. I’ll sit barefoot on the warm sand and watch the crashing waves while he watches me. Isaiah always keeps his eye on me.
I wrap my arms around myself and clutch the hem of my shirt to prevent myself from grasping him. “I can’t.”
He keeps his arm extended, but the weight of my words causes it to waver. “Why not?”
“Because if I run away, if I break Scott’s rules, he’ll send my mom to jail.”
Isaiah’s hand clenches into a fist and his arm drops to his side. “Fuck him.”
“Fuck her, too. In fact, why were you even with her Friday night? You promised me you’d stay away from her. She hurts you.”
“No, it was her boyfriend. Mom would never hurt me.”
“She let you take the fall for her bullshit and she sat back while he used you as a fucking piñata. Your mom is a nightmare.”
A car door slams in the parking lot, and we slink to opposite corners by the door.
“We need to talk, Beth.”
I agree. We do. I nod toward the pinewoods.
“Let’s go over there.”
Isaiah pokes his head out and scans the area. He waves his hand for me to go. We don’t run. We walk in absolute silence. Once we’re deep enough in, I turn, waiting for the question that has to be tearing him apart.
“You lied to me.” Isaiah shoves his hands into his jeans pocket and stares at the brown pine needles on the ground. “You told me you never knew your dad.”
Okay. Not a question, but an accusation.
One I deserve. “I know.”
“I didn’t want to talk about my dad.”
He keeps looking at those damn needles. A few years ago, I told Isaiah the same lie I gave everyone else regarding my father. Isaiah was so moved that he told me something he’d never told anyone else: that his mother had no idea who his father was. The lie I told Isaiah bonded him to me for life. By the time I figured out what cemented our relationship, that he believed we both had huge question marks on the paternal side, it was too late to tell him the truth.
“You know how people are.” I hate the desperation in my voice. “They love gossip and if there’s a story, they’ll dig, and I never wanted to think about the bastard again.
When I told you I never knew who my father was, I had no idea that was your reality. I didn’t know that was the story that would make us friends.”
His eyes shut at the word friends and his jaw jumps as if I said something to hurt him. But we are friends. He’s my best friend. My only friend.
“Isaiah…” I have to give him something.
Something that will let him know what he means to me. “What happened with my dad…”
It hurts to breathe. “When I was in third grade…” Say it already!
Isaiah’s gray eyes meet mine. The kindness in them fades as they turn a little wild. “Is your dad around?” In the predatory movement of a panther, he takes several steps toward me. “Are you in danger?”
I shake my head. “No. He’s gone. Uncle
Scott and Dad hated each other. Scott didn’t even know Dad left.”
“He’s a dick, but he’d never lay a hand on me. I swear.”
He blinks and the wildness fades, but his muscles still ripple with anger. “I trusted you.”
His three simple words gut me.
“I know.” I can give him honesty now. “I wish I could go with you.”
“Then do it.”
“She’s my mom. I expected you to understand.” It’s a low blow. I stay silent, unmoving, waiting for him to swallow his demons.
“I get it,” he says in a hard voice, “but it doesn’t mean I agree.”
Good. He’s forgiven me. Guilt still eats at me, but at least my stomach muscles relax while the guilt feasts.
“Nice shirt,” he says, and I smile at his playful tone.
“There’s my girl. I was wondering if they sucked out your personality in first period.”
“You’re not far off.” Time is running short.
I’ve lost so much already. I can’t lose him.
“What do we do?”
“What are your uncle’s terms?”
“No running away and no more seeing you or Noah.” Scott said he wanted me to completely forget my old life. That the only way I’d have a fresh start was to make a clean break and if I wouldn’t willingly amputate the past, then he’d do it for me.READ MORE >>