“Haley and I are arguing,” says Jax.
My stomach twists like a dishrag. Shut up, moron.
“Can I help?” she asks in a cheerful voice. “Maybe mediate?”
“No,” I answer while Jax says, “Yes.”
I whip my head to him and slam my hands against the carpet. “Really?”
“Why not?” He crunches into the apple again. “If anyone needs therapy, it’s our family.” He winks at me, then redirects himself at Mrs. Collins. “I’m yanking your stones. My goal in life is to get a rise out of Haley and I did.”
Jax offers me his hand, I accept, and he pulls us both off the ground. He swoops up my backpack and some of the applications that had fallen out of the files, then kicks the cabinet closed. He waves the apple in the air. “Garbage can?”
With her head propped to the side as if she’s watching a fascinating reality TV show, she points to the small can next to her feet. “Tell your grandfather I’m still working on that volunteer.”
“No problem.” Jax trashes the apple and drags me along as he brushes past her. “Later.”
Like I’m a seven-year-old, I wave and smile at her before I trip out into the main hallway. Jax and I become engulfed in the mob of people heading toward first period. Jax thrusts my backpack and the loose applications at me. Great, now I’m going to have to get these back.
“What was that?” I demand. “Do you want to get a social worker involved? Like we don’t have enough problems already?”
Jax steps in front of me, causing me to whiplash forward as I halt.
“Get out of the way!” some guy shouts as he walks past us.
“Go f**k yourself, ass**le!” yells Jax. When he’s done staring the guy down, Jax towers over me. “Tell me what happened on Friday.”
“Nothing happened. I fell. The medication rolled out. End of story.”
“Who the hell are you anymore? I mean, there are times I see you. You. Like a few minutes ago in the office. The girl I grew up with. The girl who talked trash. The girl who fought with and for her family. Then you got wrapped up with Matt…”
Reining in his temper, Jax inhales deeply and looks away. “I thought when you broke up with him… Why are you guarding his back? I miss you, Haley. And if you ever see the girl I liked, tell her that for me. Tell her that her family misses her.”
He leaves me there….standing alone in a busy hallway. The scholarship applications crackle in my hand. How do I tell him I’ve been protecting him from Matt and Conner? How do I tell him I’ve been fighting for him this entire time?
From across the counter, the secretary slides my schedule to me. “You’ll love it here.”
I nod, then meet her eyes. What would she do if I told her that for the past two nights I’ve parked my car in a remote spot at a local park and slept there, then showered at a truck stop?
Pride kept me from asking anyone for a place to crash. Not my brothers, not my friends, not anyone. They’d give me a place, but I can’t stomach the look of disappointment.
After word spread I was officially expelled from school, I was avalanched in texts and the idea of adding to the sympathy induced dry heaves. I’m West Young, and regardless of the fact that I’ve been disowned from the family and the fortune associated with it, I don’t accept charity…or pity.
The secretary tilts her head. “Are you okay?”
No. I’m not. It’s been cold for the past two nights and I’ve had to run the car every hour to ease the chill. The exhaustion sucks, but it’s the silence that kills me. “I’m good.”
Without waiting to see if she buys my response, I exit the office. I don’t care if I’m going the right way to first period. School…class…normalcy feels unnecessary, a bit insane.
I came to my new school hoping my parents would be here. Saturday I went home, packed some shit, then left, and I’ve stayed gone. Somewhere around three last night, I had the delusion Mom would be worried and Dad would be sorry. That the reason my cell wasn’t burning with texts and calls was because it died Saturday night and I forgot my charger at home. The image looped over and over in my mind that I’d strut into school and they’d be waiting for me—begging me to return home.
If my brothers did call or text, maybe I would have reached out to them by now, but they didn’t. Dad not contacting me is no shock, but for Mom to be AWOL? My gut cramps and I rub the back of my neck as I stalk down the hallway. Guess Dad was right—when it comes to my family, I don’t belong.
The sight of long sandy-brown hair causes me to pause. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m seeing one. With wide eyes and a facial expression that mirrors the one she wore when I almost hit her with the Escalade, Haley stands in the middle of the hallway. A backpack slung over her shoulder; a piece of paper clutched in her hand. People give her a wide berth as they walk past, like she’s an island in the middle of rapids.
I’m not shy. Never have been. People, parties, crowds: that’s my thing. But being near Haley again… I found my kryptonite.
Her jeans perfectly fit her hips, a blue cotton shirt molds nicely around her ample curves and she has the darkest eyes I’ve ever seen. A guy could get lost in those eyes.
She blinks several times, folds the paper in her hand and turns—heading in the opposite direction of me. Shaking myself back to life, I duck and weave through the crowd in pursuit.
Right as she walks into the stairwell, she glances over her shoulder with her eyebrows scrunched together. That’s right. I’m calling you. “Haley!”
Our eyes meet and her hand automatically covers her heart. I cut through two girls in order to reach her. One of them yells at me, but I ignore her.
“West?” Haley remembers my name. That’s a bonus.
“Why is it every time I see you, you’re running?”
Her lips move a centimeter. “I wasn’t running.” She hitches her thumb over her shoulder. “I was heading to class.”
I don’t want halfway. I crave a full smile from this girl. “You gotta admit, it was a sweet line.”
Christ, she has an amazing smile. With her eyes shining like that, she could be her own personal fireworks show. “The line sucked. I’m more fond of guys who give me flowers.”
Noted and filed away for future use. “It got your attention.”
“My attention?” Her head tilts as if she remembered something awful—odds are she’s replaying Friday night.