“Of course,” Jude said, kissing the top of the baby’s head. “Anytime.”
“I don’t know what we’d do without you,” she said, looking at the baby, something sad in her voice.
“You’d be all right, Holly,” he said, making another face at the baby. “But I’m glad I’m able to help.”
“Well, are you going to sleep out on the porch?” she asked, propping a hand on her hip.
“I’d rather not.” He smiled.
“Well, get in here,” she said, stepping aside. “I’ve got plans for you tonight.”
“Boy, little Jude,” he said, holding the baby in front of him, “your mama sure is bossy.”
Holly sighed, grabbing Jude’s arm and pulling him in. He pulled the door closed, encapsulating the family away from me.
I needed to get out of here. I needed to get home. I needed to forget about Jude. I needed a good hard cry to get this out of my system.
I waited a few more minutes, turning the key over in the ignition when a light went out in a back room. I was not going to be there when that trailer started rocking.
I tore out of the trailer park, the roads leading home blurry because I couldn’t quite keep the tears contained, but I wasn’t ready to let them fall. So Sawyer was right and I was wrong. I couldn’t trust Jude and I never should have. Jude himself had warned me off of him, but I wasn’t smart enough to listen.
My boyfriend, my ex-boyfriend, although I wasn’t sure if I could even call him that, had a second life stuffed away in a crummy trailer. This stuff did not happen in real life.
My hands were shaking over the steering wheel by the time I got home. The cabin was dark and it was the first thing that had gone right in the past hour.
I was through the door and up the stairs in five seconds flat. I slid into my bedroom noiselessly, grabbed the shopping bag with the garments I’d intended to put on so Jude could take off tonight, and chucked it in the garbage can. Flopping on my bed, I knew if I took my finger out, the dam holding back the flood would shatter. I couldn’t decide if I needed to let myself go or if I needed to keep myself together.
Jude was the kind of guy who’d I’d thought, up until tonight, was a guy worth shedding a lake of tears over, but after what I’d learned tonight, he didn’t seem worth the effort anymore.
Sitting up in frustration, something caught my eye on my desk. A yellow envelope that had remained unopened. Until tonight.
Snatching it off my desk, I tore the packet open. My future seemed easier to accept now that it was so bleak right now.
I held the top sheet in front of me, scanning the all important first paragraph. My breath caught as I sunk to the floor.
I fell asleep that night with half a smile and half a frown on my face.
A few hours of sleep had flipped my emotion meter from anguish to anger. I woke up Friday morning ready to give Jude hell. I had to remind myself as I got ready for school that I hated him, but I hoped that after enough reminders, it would become more natural. I threw on a pretty sun dress, one that I realized later looked an awful lot like Holly’s, and grabbed a sweater out of my closet for good measure.
Mom was already gone and dad was thirty minutes deep into Sergeant Pepper’s, so it made getting out of the house speed bump free. During the drive to school, I rehearsed what I was going to say to him. What words would do the most damage, what expressions would make me look the most incurably pissed.
I was sure I had it all down pat until I pulled into my parking spot only to find someone standing on the patch of grass in front of it, waiting for me.
Jude waved, grinning at me. A man shouldn’t be able to grin like that at a girl he was cheating on.
I had a moment of getting choked up, looking at what I was about to lose, but I quickly reminded myself he wasn’t mine to lose in the first place.
I took a deep breath, and then threw the door open.
“You look nice,” Jude greeted.
“Don’t look at me that way,” I said, slamming the door. “Because you won’t be peeling off this dress.”
His face pinched with confusion, the smile fading from his face. “Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
“At least I didn’t wake up in the wrong bed.” I came around the front of the car, crossing my arms.
“Luce,” he said, pausing. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb with me,” I warned, “and don’t try to make me out to be dumb. You fooled me for a while, good for you, but not anymore.”
“Hey,” he said, lifting his hands and walking towards me. “What’s the matter? Why are you so upset?” He tried wrapping his arms around me, but I shoved him away.
“I can answer both those questions with one word,” I said, glowering at him. “Holly.”
His eyes widened for the shortest second. “What about Holly?”
I huffed, trying not to look at his eyes. I could achieve a higher degree of anger if I didn’t look into them. “I’ve arrived at my own conclusions about Holly, but why don’t you tell me your story? Because I’m sure it’s an interesting one.”
He wrapped his hands around his neck, looking up. “Holly is my friend.”
I laughed. “A friend who invites you into her trailer with a baby on her hip? A friend who greets you with a pretty little dress and spreads her legs for you later? After the baby’s tucked in of course.”
“You were there last night,” he said, almost to himself. “I had this feeling, like you were right there. Turns out I was right,” he said, looking straight through me.
“Yeah, damn right I was there last night,” I said, “and I saw everything.”
“And why were you there?” he asked, staying calm. “Why did you follow me?”
“Because someone had been telling me for weeks now you and Holly were having this thing behind my back, but I ignored it because I thought I could trust you.” I paused, biting my tongue because I was too close to crying. I couldn’t let him see he’d caused me that kind of pain. “Boy, was I never so wrong about anything in my life.”
“Let me get this straight because you’re talking like a crazy woman right now and I have a tough time following that dialect.” Jude exhaled. “Someone told you Holly and I were getting it on behind your back? Someone told you where she lived and where I was banging her brains out?” he asked, shifting his weight. “And you believed them?” His voice wavered, like he was hurt, but he didn’t fool me. This kind of man had perfected his acts, all his acts, in order to juggle multiple women.
“I’m glad I did,” I answered. “Turns out I was right.” The parking lot was filling up and we were catching more attention that I wanted.
“Who told you about Holly?”
“That doesn’t matter,” I said, glaring at a group of girls trying to get within hearing distance.
“Trust me, when it comes to Holly, it does matter.” He was defending her, to me. I needed to get angrier.
“Sawyer told me, okay?” I said.
Jude’s face shadowed, his jaw straining. “Sawyer Dickhead Diamond told you I was cheating on you with Holly,” he paused, swallowing. “And you believed him?” His face was pained, like he was cut as deep as pain could go.
I bit my cheek and nodded.
“Why didn’t you just ask me?”
Why hadn’t I just asked him? It was a question I hadn’t asked myself yet, and it was one I couldn’t answer. So I made something up. “Because you would have lied.”
His eyes closed, his head sagging. “So you trust Sawyer more than you trust me?”
Yesterday, that would have been answered with a hell, no but today I wasn’t sure, so I let my head answer for me with one sad nod.
“Then I guess there’s nothing left to say,” he said, not looking at me.
“Oh there’s plenty more to say,” I said, crossing my arms.
“Sounds like there’s just one thing to say,” he said, shifting his weight, staring at me like he didn’t recognize me.
I knew that’s where this whole thing was leading, but I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t say it yet.
“Don’t worry about me, babe. I’ve seen so many backs walking away from me that this is old hat,” he said, shrugging like this wasn’t killing him like it was me. “Say it,” he said, his voice shaking.
I bit my cheek. I wanted answers, explanations.
“Say it!” he yelled, charging forward, the sinews of his neck bursting through his skin.
I swallowed and closed my eyes. “Bye, Jude.” Turning away, I jogged across the parking lot, warning myself not to look back.
I rarely heeded my warnings, as this whole Jude mess had proven.
Glancing back, I found him standing in the same spot, frozen in place. And then he turned and walked away.
The excited buzz of a Friday morning echoed down the hall when I weaved through the metal detectors. Everyone acted like nothing had happened, like my world hadn’t just been flopped on its face. It was just another day for them, when my days felt like they were ending. I stood there, unable to move. A river of students shuffled by me, some ignorant to me feeling like I was standing on the ledge of the world, about to jump, and others staring at me over their shoulders like I was an exhibit at the zoo.
“OMG, Lucy!” Taylor said, popping up beside me. “What was that out there with you and Jude? Did you guys just break up? Did he just drop out? He just walked off the school grounds and kept going. What is going on?” she asked, shaking my arm, streaming another wave of questions I wasn’t able to process. “Lucy,” she said, snapping her fingers in front of my face. “What is with you?”
I was suffocating, really suffocating. I had asthma as a child, nothing real serious, but I outgrew it before middle school. Or I thought I’d outgrown it. My lungs felt like deflated balloons I couldn’t fill and my breaths came in short, panicked bursts. I couldn’t be here right now, I couldn’t do this.
I needed a way out of this mess I’d found myself in.
A hand grabbed mine from behind, spinning me around. “Let’s get you out of here,” Sawyer said, pulling me under his arm and guiding me back out the door.
“Sawyer, what the hell’s going on?” Taylor shouted after us.
“Put a clamp on it, Taylor,” he muttered, shoving the door open.
The fresh air helped right away. My breathing slowed as my lungs filled to half capacity. A tear finally slipped free.
“I’ve got you,” Sawyer said, squeezing my arms as he led me to his shiny white car in the front row. He guided me into the car, snapped my seatbelt into place, and reclined the seat.
I covered my eyes with my forearms, letting another tear escape.
Sawyer crawled in beside me, fired the engine, and flew out of the parking lot. He rolled down my window, allowing another rush of air to fill my lungs. I was almost breathing normally again.
“Thank you,” I said after a while. I didn’t know where we were going, I was beyond caring, but I didn’t care as long as it was in the opposite direction of Southpointe.