Home > One Small Thing(6)

One Small Thing(6)
Author: Erin Watt

“Whatever.” I force one shoulder up in a careless gesture. “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. After this year, we probably won’t see half these kids ever again.”

“Gosh, I hope not.” Scarlett tugs on my books. “Let me carry those.”

“Why? I can carry my books.”

“I know you can. I just... Forget it.” She slips her arm through mine. “Let’s go to Calc.”

“Why did we ever decide taking AP Calc was a good move?”

“Something about it looking good on our college apps. Have you decided what visits you’re going to do this fall?”

My mood dives even lower thinking of the applications Mom has stolen. Guess what. I’m going to get new ones and reapply. The problem is I can’t do it online because I need a credit card to pay the fees. I was able to mail a money order. I’m not sure how I’m going to pull off future applications, but I’m going to make it happen. Somehow.

“USC, Florida, Miami, San Diego State.” I rattle off my dream destinations. Granted, I have no clue what I want to major in, but at least I’ve got the location category confidently checked off.

Scarlett grins. “Hmm. I’m sensing a beach theme.”

“You’re so smart, Scar.”

“I know, but you don’t really want to go so far away, do you? I’ll miss you so much.”

Any response I would’ve had dries up at the sight of a tall, broad frame at the end of the hall. I wouldn’t have noticed him, if not for the fact that the entire senior hall has fallen silent.

My heart rate speeds up as my eyes meet familiar blue ones. Oh my God. Oh my God. What is he doing here?

“What is he doing here?” I say out loud before I can stop myself.

Crap. Now she’s going to ask how I know him and I’ll have to admit to meeting him at the party, and she’ll read between the lines and know exactly what I did. Or maybe someone from Darling saw Chase and me together and told everyone, and Scarlett already knows. Either way, embarrassment is burning holes in my cheeks.

Scarlett follows my gaze and halts in her tracks. “Right? The nerve of that guy! To show up here.” She steps forward and then turns to try to block my view of Chase. “I can’t believe they didn’t make him go to a different school, but I’m sure it has to do with his mom being the mayor’s wife now.” She tsks again. “Favoritism is so gross.”

“He’s the mayor’s stepson?” I say blankly.

“I didn’t know that either until this morning. Wendy Bluth said that his mother was secretly dating the mayor for years and they just tied the knot this spring. I don’t think anyone would’ve voted for him if they’d known the truth.”

“The truth?” I’m so confused.

Scarlett’s mouth turns into a sympathetic frown. “I get it. You don’t want to talk about it.” She glances over her shoulder to check if Chase is still there. “It’s weird. I didn’t even recognize him at first because he looks totally different, but you can’t mistake the scar.”

My bewilderment deepens. There’s no reason for Scarlett to recognize him at all. She wasn’t even at the party.

I turn back and stare. He doesn’t look any different from Saturday night. He looks exactly the same. Breathtakingly attractive. His chin is completely clean today. His dark blond hair sweeps down in the front, almost, but not quite, covering the scar that bisects his eyebrow.

I kissed that scar a few times that night.

The heat of embarrassment creeps through me again. I can’t believe he’s standing ten feet away from me right now. I thought I’d never see him again, and I was okay with it because that was the less humiliating option. Coming face-to-face with him again after what we did is a million times more humiliating.

Our eyes lock. My breath catches. Scarlett’s saying something, but I can’t hear her over the roaring mortification in my ears. Or is that something else I’m feeling? I swallow and it feels like there are razor blades in my throat.

“Come on,” she says. “Just ignore him. He isn’t worth your time.”

How does she know? “Does he have a rep?” I ask hoarsely, because it suddenly occurs to me what might’ve happened. If Chase has the reputation of being a player, maybe he bragged about Saturday night to anyone who’d listen. Darling and Lexington Heights are neighboring towns—word travels fast if the right people are talking about it.

“Meaning does everyone know about him?” she asks.

I nod without looking at her.

“Of course everyone knows about him.” She huffs in disgust. “Oh, there’s Jeff.”

A flicker of green catches my eye. Directly over Chase’s shoulder, Jeff Corsen’s dark head appears.

I’m not too surprised to see him. I heard he was coming back to Darling. After Rachel died, Jeff totally broke down. Barely managed to finish his sophomore year and then disappeared for more than two years. Grief, his parents said. They sent him to England to live with his grandparents, but apparently he didn’t finish senior year over there because he’s back at Darling High. It’s weird that my sister’s boyfriend, who used to be two years ahead of me, is now in the same grade.

In his forest green hoodie and faded jeans, Jeff strides forward, his shoulder deliberately bumping Chase’s. It breaks our eye contact. Chase’s mouth thins and I tense up, anticipating a confrontation. But then Chase merely turns aside, ignoring the insult.

He’s not fazed by a thing. Not by seeing his hookup standing at the end of the hall on the first day at a new school. Not by being physically brushed aside by another guy. Not by the stares and silence of his new classmates.

I envy that. God, I envy his composure a lot. It reminds me of why I was attracted to him in the first place. There’s a surety about him. Like, a hurricane could sweep through and he’d still be standing in the hall, feet firmly planted, shoulders back.

I bet his parents wouldn’t have the nerve to take the door off his bedroom.

Noise penetrates my brain. Jeff’s appearance has broken the spell cast by Chase. A few classmates laugh. Others rush up to greet Jeff. He was popular before he left. He and Rachel were the golden couple. If she’d lived to her senior year, the two of them would’ve been king and queen of homecoming and the prom.

If she’d lived... My heart seizes up and a familiar discomfort churns in my stomach. I’m not going to think about that.

Instead, I wonder what it was like for Rachel, to be so loved by a guy that he had to move to another country to recover from her death. Did he love her more than I did? I know my parents think I didn’t love Rachel enough, that I don’t mourn her like I should. If I did, I’d behave.

I did love her, though. We were two years apart, but she never treated me like I was a bratty little sister, not even when she started high school and I was still in middle school. We helped each other with homework. We played volleyball. We had slumber parties in her room. She was my big sister. Of course I loved her.

I swallow the pain again. Banish it. Unlike my parents, I won’t let myself obsess over Rachel. I can’t.

“Hey, Lizzie,” Jeff says when he reaches me. His hand, the one with the long, elegant fingers that floated across the piano keys, reaches out and curves around my ear. “Long time, no see.”

“It’s Beth.” When he makes a quizzical face, I repeat, “Beth. I don’t go by Lizzie anymore.”

“All right. Beth it is. How are you?”

“Hi, Jeff!” Scarlett chirps at my side before I can respond.

“Scarlett,” he says. His voice is different, accented.

Scarlett notices. “Oh my God. You came back with an accent. That’s so cool.”

“Is it?” Jeff cocks his head. Behind him, I spot Chase again. His face is half-hidden by the locker door, but I know it’s him.

My body tingles. I guess I’d know it was him if I was blindfolded. A connection was made the other night—one that neither of us can really deny by the looks of the way we stared at each other before Jeff appeared.

Why am I the one ashamed of what happened? It was my choice. I wanted it. The thing I should be embarrassed about is running off like a scared girl. But I can’t help it.

I’ve never been one of those girls who pictured candles and rose petals for her first time, but I at least thought I’d be going out with the guy I gave my V-card to. He’d be my boyfriend, and we’d take it slow and make out a bunch and fool around until we eventually did the deed. But that didn’t happen, and I don’t know how I feel about that.

What I do know is that I can’t let him, or anyone else, see how shaken up I am. I straighten my shoulders. Confidence is what Chase has. I want that.

“Nice to see you, Jeff,” I say, and then I take a few steps forward, in Chase’s direction.

“Wait—” Scar catches my arm. “Do you really think this is a good idea?”

“Why not?” I shrug. “He obviously goes to school here. I might as well face up to him now instead of trying to hide from him for the next nine months.”

“There’s no reason for you to talk to him,” Jeff says. “We’ll keep him away.” He throws a dark look over his shoulder toward Chase, who’s gathered his books and is walking away.

Yeah, Chase definitely has a rep. Even Jeff, who’s been gone for so long, has apparently heard that something went down between me and Chase. That means word’s gotten around.

A spark of anger lights my belly as I picture Chase bragging to all those Lex kids that he bagged a Darling girl.

I speed up, walking fast down the hall with my eyes pinned on Chase’s back.

He’s an island. Like, there’s literally a bubble of space around him, which is shocking given the size of my class. Three hundred seniors attend Darling. The halls are packed this morning, yet no one seems to be able to penetrate his personal space. Fuck. I kinda love that.

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