The music was thumping outside my window and the strangers I didn’t know filling up the living area of the condo were getting louder. I would think since this was a condo that the people in the other units would complain. But apparently this was a party hub. The speakers out at the pool were blasting dance music. I could hear the same noise going on over my head. This entire place was crazy. It wasn’t a large building. It had, at the most, 30 units and according to Jewel they were all used by their owners. They weren’t rented out. I closed my blinds to give me a little privacy. Three different people had already knocked on my door. After the second knock, I stopped answering. Drunk guys with equally drunk girls looking for a place to have nasty, unprotected, disease infested sex. Shuddering at the thought, I went to the private bathroom attached to my room. I was thankful for this small area of peace.
“Open this door right now, Lana,” Jewel yelled while banging on my bedroom door. Great, she was already drunk and going to force me to party. Sighing, I headed to open the door and get this over with. I just wanted a long hot bath.
Jerking the door open, I started to tell her I wasn’t interested when she barged past me slamming the door behind her. She locked it then spun around to face me.
“What the HELL did you do to Sawyer Vincent?” she demanded with a look of awe on her face.
I didn’t want to talk about Sawyer. “I told you I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Well, you’re going to because I just lied out my ass for you while the boy begged and pleaded with me to call him if I heard from you or had any idea where you might be.”
He’d called Jewel?
“When? Just now? He called you?” I asked confused.
“YES, he called me. Sexy southern drawl and all. He was pitiful I tell you. PI-TI-FUL. What did you do? Can you give me lessons? ‘Cause girl, you must have rocked his world.”
Sinking down onto the bed behind me I stared up at her shaking my head. Why would he be calling me? He had Ashton now. Couldn’t he just be happy? Why would he be begging Jewel for help? For Ashton’s sake. That was the only thing that made any sense.
“What did he say exactly?” I asked
Jewel propped one hand on her hip and shook her head, “Oh no. You don’t get to ask the questions first. I do. I ask and you answer. Then, and only then, will I tell you what was said between us.”
“Please, don’t make me do this. I don’t want to talk about him.” “No more begging. I’ve had my fill for the night, thank you very much. Now, talk.” Just thinking about him made me anxious. How was I supposed to talk about him? Standing up, I began to pace in front of the bed. I could do this. I wanted to know what he said to Jewel and what she said back because if Jewel let anything slip, I needed to pack up and leave. I didn’t want Ashton or my mom showing up here.
“I’ve been in love with Sawyer Vincent since I was a kid. He has been in love with Ashton for just as long. They broke up about seven months ago because she fell in love with his cousin Beau. Don’t ask me why because I can’t figure it out. Sawyer is perfect. Beau is… well Beau is a heathen… but he is insanely in love with Ashton.”
“Wait, both of these boys are in love with Ashton?” Jewel asked
“Yep. Always have been,” I replied then took a deep breath before I went on. “I thought that once Sawyer had time to get over Ashton then I would step in and make a move. Try to get his attention.” The hurt painful laugh that escaped me bordered on a sob. I hated my weakness when I mentioned his name.
“I did this whole makeover thing in hopes of attracting Sawyer. It was well past time for me to stop looking like a mouse anyway. I did it because I wanted to be a girl who could catch Sawyer’s eye. And it worked. He noticed me. But it wasn’t enough.” Please God, let that be enough for her. I didn’t want to talk about this anymore.
“Okay, so if it wasn’t enough then why is the boy begging me to help him find you? Because from the way he sounded you got to him a lot more than you think,” Jewel assured me.
I was going to have to tell her everything or she’d end up assuming the wrong thing and tell him where I was.
“I’m sure he did. Because when Ashton wants something, Sawyer will move mountains to get it for her.”
“She’s with Beau, right?” Jewel asked.
Turning from her so the tears stinging my eyes were hidden, I shook my head. “No. Beau cheated on her. I was really shocked because he is so completely infatuated with her but she had proof. Soon as she found out, she ran to Sawyer. He dropped me like I was on fire and let her run straight into his arms.” Sniffling, I wiped at the tears that had managed to escape before looking back at Jewel.
“You mean he’s desperate to find you because Ashton is upset that you left?”
All I could do was nod.
“Damn,” Jewel muttered, and then an angry scowl came over her face. “I’m going to beat her pretty little face in.” “Jewel, no. Don’t blame Ashton. None of this is her fault. She can’t control the fact Sawyer loves her. They were a couple for three years. He’s her safe place.”
“This sucks balls. You know that, right?” The disgust in her face almost made me smile. Almost.
“Yes, it does. But I walked into this. I took a chance.” Shrugging, I walked over to sit back down beside her on the bed. “We both know it was time I started taking chances. I crashed and burned but I learned from it.”
Jewel wrapped her arm around my shoulder and pulled my head against her shoulder. “Ah, damn. This sucks,” she sighed. “I won’t tell him anything. He did beg and plead with me to call him if I heard from you or I thought of somewhere you could be. He said he ‘needed’ to find you. I was mistaken with his anxious tone. I figured you’d wrapped the boy around your finger and gotten angry with him and left him high and dry. I didn’t realize he was trying to ease some other girl’s guilt. She may be your cousin, but I am not a fan. Just sayin’.”
We sat in silence for awhile. Finally, I sat back up. “Thank you for lying. I have complete faith in your acting abilities.”
Jewel smirked, “So you wanna run off to LA with me? We could rock that town. Me and you.”
A real laugh managed to bubble up and I shook my head, “Not right now. Maybe someday soon.”
“Come out here and party. Forget everything. Drink one of my tropical drinks. I have one I make with coconut rum that is to die for.”
I wasn’t ready. “Give me a few more days?”
Sawyer was always the Vincent boy worth fighting for. He’s the special one.
I reread that last line for what felt like the hundredth time. I was packed up and headed to Florida. It had been over a week now and no Lana. No sign of her. No text. Her phone still went directly to voice mail. She’d called her mother again to check in but the number had been unknown and she hadn’t been able to trace it. All I knew was she was alive. That small amount of knowledge kept me from losing my mind. I lived for those calls from her mom telling me what Lana had said. It was my only connection to her and although I wasn’t a fan of her parents, I was starting to have an odd sort of affection for her crazy mother. She did love Lana even if she sucked at showing her. The woman was definitely controlling but Lana was doing a number on her right now and I was willing to bet that relationship would be forever changed for the better.
Folding the note Lana had left Ash into the worn creases where I’d opened and read it and then folded it again, I slipped it into my pocket. I didn’t go anywhere without it. Having it close to me reminded me that when I found her, I could fix this. She’d misunderstood and it was my fault. If I’d have opened my eyes and realized I was in love with the girl this wouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately, Lana hadn’t known. She thought I still loved Ash.
“Sawyer, you ready?” my dad called from the foyer. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to leave Grove. What if she came back and I was gone? Besides, how the hell was I supposed to concentrate enough to throw a football? This week was going to be a disaster.
“Coming Dad,” I called back. I grabbed my phone so I could look again at the picture Ash had texted me from our trip to the mountains. Lana had been hiking up the rocks toward the waterfall in Cheaha and Ash had snapped a picture of her just as she’d glanced back laughing. It was the only picture I had of her. I’d had it printed and framed so I could keep it by my bed. Some nights staring at it was the only thing that kept me going. I slipped my phone into my pocket. I had my note and my picture. It would have to get me through the next few days.
When I got to the bottom of the steps, Ethan was standing in the foyer talking to my dad. His eyes met mine and something felt off. There was something I was missing.
He shuffled his feet, “Hey Sawyer I, uh, forgot you were heading out today.”
I hadn’t been to a field party, or anywhere else for that matter, since Lana left me. “Yeah, practice is starting up.”
“I came by to ask you something but it can wait until you get back.”
“You’re here now, might as well ask.” God help him if he asked me if Lana was available. I’d break his damn neck.
“Uh, it’s about Lana,” he began.
I looked over at my dad, “Can you give us a sec, Dad?”
Frowning, my father nodded and grabbed one of my bags and before heading outside.
“What about Lana?” I asked, making sure he heard the warning in my words.
Ethan sighed, “Not sure how to ask this,” he began.
“I’d choose my words carefully, bro,” I replied.
He nodded, “Yeah, I’m getting that loud and clear.” Clearing his throat, he shifted his feet again. “Do you, uh, love her? Lana, that is.”
The fact he’d felt the need to clarify it was Lana he was asking about pissed me off. I didn’t like her being compared to Ashton. She was so much more than what I’d had with Ashton. There was no comparison.
“Yes,” I clipped out.
“I mean, do you love her more than—”
“Don’t you f**king say it,” I snarled. That was a cliff Ethan didn’t want to step off. Ethan’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Okay. I get it,” he backed away and moved toward the door.
“That’s all you wanted to say? Find out if Lana was available? You know she left me right? No one can find her.”
Ethan swallowed hard and shook his head slowly, “Uh, no, I mean I heard something. I wasn’t sure.”
“I gotta go if that’s all you needed.”
Ethan turned and headed out the front door. “Good luck in Florida. I’ll uh, see ya when you get back. Looking forward to hearing about it. The rest of us are going to have to live vicariously through you and Beau now. Since our football days are over.”
His voice was still tense but I could tell he was trying to calm me down. If I was a good friend, I’d apologize. Right now, I couldn’t. I’d do that next time I saw him. Slipping my hand in my pocket, I rubbed Lana’s letter gently between my fingers. I had to find her.