Taylor and her apostles looked disappointed again. “The buzz around here is that he evaded like a hundred police cars, returned the car to its owner, then walked right into the downtown precinct and turned himself in,” Taylor spewed, waving and shaking her hands so neurotically I scooted a few inches back. “What did you hear, Lucy?”
“A whole lotta nada,” I answered, already exhausted from the grand inquisition and we were only three minutes into lunch hour. We were only getting started.
“So it’s true he just, like, left you behind?” Lexie asked, chewing the end of a carrot stick. These girls ate more damn raw vegetables than a family of rabbits.
“Yep,” I said, looking over my shoulder, praying for some kind of distraction. “It was tragic.”
“How did you get home?” Lexie said, waving her carrot.
I was about to answer a car when Taylor smiled over at me, arching a brow. “I heard you rode shot-gun in a certain BMW 325i.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” I said, glancing behind me again. Still no one coming to my rescue. Hell, at this point in the questioning, I wouldn’t have cared if it was a masked madman carrying a chainsaw over his head.
“Sawyer drove you home?” The half-eaten carrot dropped from Lexie’s hand.
Shooting up in her chair, Lexie glared down at me. “Why, Lucy Larson has certainly made the rounds around Southpointe, hasn’t she? All in one week’s time.” Sharpening her glare at me, she spun and marched out of the cafeteria.
“Don’t worry, she’ll get over it,” Taylor said, waving her hand in the air. “She and Sawyer dated on and off for a couple years and had a nasty breakup a few weeks before school started.”
“Two years?” I said, having newfound respect for Sawyer. A two year commitment to the genius that was Lexie Hamilton should have guaranteed him a seat amongst the gods. “She hates me. She’s going to hate me for a long, long time.”
Curling her finger at me, Taylor leaned in. I didn’t move any closer. “Lexie hates everybody. Just don’t tell her I said that.”
“How nice for her,” I said.
“Wow, Lucy Larson,” Taylor said, pulling out a compact from her purse. “You somehow manage to tame the untamable Jude Ryder, short-lived as it was, then move right on to Southpointe’s most eligible bachelor and coveted husband-to-be. You are officially my hero.”
Samantha giggled. “Are you taking on any apprentices at this time?”
“Only the morally handicapped,” I muttered, as Taylor powdered her nose and Samantha sipped diet pop from a straw. I was surrounded by sweater set, peaches and cream, future Stepford wives. What the hell was I doing?
“Sawyer frickin’ Diamond,” Taylor sung, shaking her head. “Unbelievable.”
“I am, aren’t I?”
I don’t know which three of us jumped more, but Taylor’s powder shattered when it hit the floor, so she won some sort of prize.
“God, Sawyer,” Taylor said, picking up the shattered triangles of powder. “Don’t ever sneak attack a bunch of girls in a huddle unless you want to get an elbow in your balls.”
He tapped his head. “Duly noted.”
“What do you want?” Taylor asked, melting a bit under his smile.
“I came to borrow Lucy.” His hands rested on my shoulders. “You girls don’t mind, do you?”
“That depends,” Taylor said, watching Sawyer’s hands on me.
Taylor slid me a loaded look. “On what you came to borrow her for.”
“A man’s business is his own,” he replied, pulling my chair out.
“Except when it isn’t,” Taylor said under her breath, before making a tunnel of her hands and whispering in my ear, “I expect a full report.”
Popping up, I waved to Taylor and Samantha and turned to Sawyer.
“Get me out of here,” I mouthed.
He grabbed my hand and led me out of the cafeteria. “Come on.”
If this is what having every head turned at me, gazing with scandalized eyes, felt like, I never wanted to run for office. I didn’t get what the big deal was with Sawyer and me walking together, but they did. Probably had something to do with him holding my hand, which I should’ve pulled away, and the rumors that were formed and written in the book of fact after homecoming.
Once we were free of the cafeteria, I exhaled. “Thank you.”
“You looked like you were in physical pain back there,” he said, leading me down a quiet hall. “I had to save you from that.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said, looking around. No one was around and I knew if someone walked by, Sawyer and me camped out in a quiet hallway would start a fresh round of rumors. “Why did you?”
Leaning into a wall of lockers, Sawyer tucked his hands in the pockets of his slacks. “I wanted to apologize,” he began, taking me by surprise. “I shouldn’t say anything to you, good or bad, about Jude. Whatever relationship the two of you have is none of my business. I’m sorry I tried to make it mine.”
The apology took me off guard, but hearing Jude’s name affected me more. Every time I heard it, another dagger was twisted into my heart. It was fast becoming a pin cushion.
“I’m not sure if there ever was a relationship,” I admitted, letting my head fall back against the wall, “and if there was, there isn’t anymore.”
It should be because he’d stolen a car, or he’d been arrested more times than I could count on two hands, or because he personified everything we girls were taught to stay away from since we were grade schoolers. But it wasn’t any of these reasons. I knew Jude and I had no relationship because if he had indeed turned himself in, he hadn’t bothered to call me first. Not to check to make sure I’d made it home safe or to explain what the hell had happened Saturday night. If we had anything of a relationship, Jude would have cared enough to contact me, but he hadn’t.
“I’m sorry, Lucy,” Sawyer said, turning his head and looking at me.
“No, you’re not,” I said, laughing about the fact that Sawyer was the one I’d open up to about Jude, but I knew it had something to do with the way his face was always warm and his eyes never judgmental.
“I’m sorry for you and the pain this has caused you,” he said. “But I don’t feel sorry for Ryder. He can kiss my ass the next time I see him.”
Another dagger right through the left ventricle. “I’d like to see that.”
“Stay tuned,” he said, looking off into the distance, “you just might. Jude Ryder might finally get a dose of his own medicine before we all head off to college and he stays behind as a waste of space lifer.”
The second week of school passed by ten times less dramatically as the first week. In fact, I felt like I was settling into a pattern of normal when I worked my way through the metal detectors Friday morning. I was getting As in all my classes—kind of hard not to when it was one times one equals one and spelling words like question and mystery were as hard as my senior year got.
I’d also joined the dance team, ignoring Taylor’s warnings that my popularity would drop by at least fifty percent, and joined the Environmental club, which she said would drop my popularity by the other fifty percent.
I was now zero percent popular.
I’d also managed to put up some boundaries between Miss Taylor and friends—which they, on most days, tried to respect—and mom and I had even had a couple other mostly amiable talks.
Life hadn’t felt this normal in years, and while I’d mourned normal for so long I should have been reveling in it, I wasn’t. I knew that had something to do with a certain someone I still hadn’t heard from, and a certain someone I should avoid from here until the grave, but as I’d learned the hard way, the heart wants what the heart wants. And it wanted Jude.
But I wouldn’t let it have him, much like a parent who wouldn’t let a child have a second piece of cake because they know it’s not what’s best for their sweet-tooth loving, impulsive child. I couldn’t let my heart have what it wanted most because I knew it would lead to the destruction of it.
“Good morning, beautiful.”
I elbowed Sawyer as we settled into our morning routine. “Go away, ugly, and don’t come back until you come up with a better line.”
“Just you wait, I’ve been working on a few and I think you’re going to be rather impressed come next Monday,” he replied, handing me my morning mocha he’d started bringing a few days ago.
“Unlikely,” I said.
“You calling me ugly every morning might actually bruise my delicate ego if I wasn’t sure you were only teasing,” he said, nodding his head at a couple of his football teammates as they passed by.
“Or if you weren’t positively certain you weren’t ugly.”
“Are you saying you think I’m hot?” he asked, grinning a wicked one over at me.
“If that’s what you heard, you need a couple of hearing aids,” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “I was merely confirming you are not, in fact, ugly.”
“I think that’s the worst compliment I’ve ever been given,” he said, slinging an arm around me and pulling me in.
And the whole easy relationship Sawyer and I navigated most of the time just ended, like it always did, when he tried pulling me into some awkward embrace or touched me with a certain look in his eyes.
“How’s the ankle, Diamond?” a voice called out from behind us. A voice that froze my feet to the ground, but melted me in every other place.
Coming around us, Jude crossed his arms, glaring at Sawyer’s arm hung around me before looking at me. I’d never been stared at with such a mix of emotions. I’d never been stared at in a way that made my breathing irregular and painful all at once.
Lifting a shoulder, Sawyer glanced down at his wrapped ankle. “It’ll heal up all right.”
Jude’s eyes didn’t leave mine. “I was talking about your other ankle.”
Sawyer paused, clearly thrown off guard. “It’s fine,” he answered.
“Do you want it to remain that way?” Jude asked, stepping forward, still watching me. Other than a bruise shadowing his cheekbone, he looked the same. I don’t know what I expected, but it just seemed like a person who’d spent almost a week in prison would come out looking different, and maybe they did, but for someone who’d been to jail a grand total of thirteen times now, it was just another day in the park.
“You’ve got your arm on something of mine,” Jude said, his eyes flashing when he looked at Sawyer.
“I believe that property changed ownership when you left it high and dry curbside.” Sawyer tried to cinch me in closer, but not before I weaved out from under his arm.
Turning on him, I leveled him with my glare before spinning around and giving Jude the same. I had not worked my ass off for the grades I had, or worked tireless summer days waiting tables, or paved my way as a strong woman to be reduced to some object two jealous boys could fight over.