Home > One Small Thing(13)

One Small Thing(13)
Author: Erin Watt

A large hand grabs my arm and twists me around.

“Hey!” I object. “What—” The words die when I realize it’s Chase. “What do you want?” I ask weakly. So much for being strong. One second in his presence and my hands are shaking and my pulse is thudding in my ears.

He gives an incredulous laugh. “What do I want? I came over here to ask what the hell you want.”

I blink in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you invite me over to your house. You stand up for me in class—”

“I didn’t stand up for you,” I cut in, but I think he knows I’m lying. I wanted everyone to stop saying mean things about him back there. That’s why I told them to shut up.

“Stop sticking your nose in my business, Beth. I can handle whatever they throw at me.”

Can he? “Can you?”

“Yes, I can. Trust me, I’ve dealt with a lot worse. You think a bunch of high school bullies scare me?” He laughs humorlessly. “I spent three years in juvie with actual criminals. You think Troy’s the first one to think of Manson as a nickname? These are kids’ games here.”

I shouldn’t feel sorry for him, but I do. “Can we...please talk about all this?”

His dark blond eyebrows crash together. “Talk about what?” Frustration rings in his tone. “Fuck, Beth, what’s your problem? There’s no reason for us to talk, okay? We’re not friends and we’re never going to be friends. We can’t. Your sister’s dead because of me.”

My eyelids start to sting.

He lowers his voice. “We had sex, all right. Big deal. It’s not like either of us were virgins or anything—”

A strangled sound flies out of my mouth.

I hope, no, I pray, that he doesn’t notice, but one thing I’ve learned about Chase—he doesn’t miss a thing. Maybe he learned to be this vigilant in juvie because he constantly had to keep his guard up, or maybe it’s a skill he’s always had. Either way, his blue eyes narrow on my face.

“Beth...” His voice is slightly hoarse. He clears his throat. Swallows, and his Adam’s apple bobs a little. “Don’t tell me you were a virgin.”

“Okay,” I whisper.

“Okay what?”

“Okay, I won’t tell you.”

It’s his turn to make a choked noise. Then he slams one hand on the locker behind me. I jolt at the unexpected sound, but I’m not afraid of him getting violent toward me.

God, why aren’t I afraid of him? He mowed someone down with his car! I should be afraid, dammit.

“Beth,” he says again. “Look at me.”

Miserably, I lift my head. “This is embarrassing enough, Chas—Charlie,” I correct.

“Chase,” he says, and it reminds me of how adamant I am about people calling me Beth. We’re more alike than he realizes, I think. “I go by Chase now.”

“Why?”

“It’s a nickname I got when—” He stops abruptly, shaking his head. “No, we’re getting off track. I need to know if...” He raises a hand and lets it hover near my cheek, as if he wants to stroke me. Then his hand drops to his side.

I quickly look around to make sure no one saw him almost touch me, but the hallway is still empty. Class started a while ago.

“Were you a virgin?” he finally asks, unhappiness swimming in his blue eyes.

I draw a slow breath and then exhale in an even slower rush. “Does it really matter?” I answer sadly.

I don’t look back as I walk away, but I can feel his gaze on me the entire time.

11

At lunch, I sit with Scarlett and the girls. Jeff joins us halfway through, which I find weird, but everyone, especially Scar, looks happy to see him. I want to ask him why he’s not sitting with his friends, but then I realize... He doesn’t have any. Everyone from his grade graduated already. Like Chase, he’s a nineteen-year-old senior.

I don’t contribute much to the conversation. As usual, my thoughts are muddled. I can’t erase Chase’s expression from my mind, the one he got when it occurred to him that I was a virgin. It hadn’t been horror, per se, but concern, maybe? Shock, definitely. And yeah, I think horror did play a small part.

Trust me, Chase, nobody’s as horrified as I am.

I almost wish I hadn’t walked away from him earlier. We could’ve talked more about it. The sex, that is. I need to talk to someone. The secret is eating me up inside, but who can I confide in?

Scarlett? She’d be horrified, too. And even if she believed that I didn’t know who Chase was beforehand, she’d probably still be a bit disgusted with me for sleeping with a stranger. Scar lost her V-card to Matty Wesser, a boy she dated seriously for two years. The only reason they’re not still together is because his dad was transferred to Denver for work and Matty’s family had to move away halfway through junior year.

Macy and Yvonne? They’d absolutely judge me for what I did.

My parents? They’d lock me in the basement for the next thirty years if they knew what happened between me and Chase.

Everyone else at school, I’m not close with, and it’s not like I can confide in Sandy at the animal shelter. She’s in her midtwenties and would probably offer some really good advice, but she was also my sort of boss, even if I wasn’t paid for the work I did.

That leaves Chase. But he doesn’t want to talk to me, and I walked away from him when the opportunity arose. I regret that now.

“...Kav’s place. His parents are out of town.”

I swear, Troy Kendall has the loudest voice in the world. No matter where I am, I always seem to overhear some BS he’s rumbling about.

“And they just got a new hot tub,” Landon Rhodes, another football player, says gleefully. “A ten-person one.”

“Sweet.”

“I know, right.”

“Yo, Yvonne!” Troy calls over to our table. “You coming to Kav’s tonight?”

Yvonne rolls her big gray eyes at our resident loudmouth. “Who the fuck is Kav?” she calls back.

“Greg Kavill? Kav? Kavi? Kav-ster?”

“Saying it in a hundred different ways isn’t going to make me know who he is,” Yvonne says haughtily, and everyone laughs, even me.

“Quarterback over at Lincoln Public,” Landon says helpfully. “He’s having a thing at his place tonight. Open invite.”

Troy glances in my direction, then Scar’s and Macy’s. “You girls are welcome, too, obvs.”

Yvonne shrugs. “Text me the deets. We’ll decide later.”

“Word,” Troy says before he and Landon turn back to their friends.

The moment the football players are occupied again, Jeff speaks in a low, displeased voice. “You shouldn’t go to that,” he warns us.

That gets my attention. I’d actually been considering going to this thing. If I can’t spend the evening with the dogs at the clinic, a party in Lincoln could be fun—

I almost burst out laughing. Fun? Elizabeth, I chastise myself, do we not remember what happened the last time you went to a party in a different town?

“Why not?” Macy asks Jeff.

“First of all, it’s a school night—”

The girls burst out laughing. “We’re seniors,” Yvonne tells him, still giggling. “We’re all allowed to go out on school nights.”

“Fine. Well, that’s not a good crowd. I’ve heard bad rumors about Kav and his buddies.”

“They can’t be all bad if Troy and Lan are friends with them,” Yvonne points out. “Besides, football parties are usually lit.”

“I’m in, then,” Macy chirps.

“There isn’t going to be anyone there but the Lincoln crowd and maybe a few Darling kids,” Scarlett says scornfully. “And the Lincoln crowd is so trashy.”

“Then I don’t want to go,” Macy says.

Beside her, Yvonne rolls her eyes. Macy’s flakier than dandruff. She jumps on and off bandwagons at the drop of a hat. If the Charlie Manson fan club did become a thing, she’d be the first one to sign up.

As for this Lincoln party, it’s sounding more and more appealing, at least if I can convince one of my friends to come. This time, I can’t take the risk of going alone, but the fact that it’s a different crowd is exactly why I want to go. None of Darling’s students looking at me with pity? Sounds like heaven.

“I want to go,” I say slowly.

“Me, too,” Macy pipes.

Yvonne snickers softly.

I glance at Scarlett. “Will you come if I go? Even if the crowd is trashy?”

She thinks it over. “Yeah, what the hell. I owe you a party after bailing on the one last weekend.”

I grin. “Sweet.”

“And anyway, Lincoln peeps aren’t as bad as the Lex crew.” Then she offers an annoying reminder. “You’re grounded, though.”

“Shit. Right.” I chew on my lower lip, ponder and shrug. “I’ll have to sneak out, I guess.” And why not? At this point, my parents can’t punish me any more than they already have. What are they going to do, break down my bedroom walls?

“You’re not sneaking out,” Jeff says darkly.

I frown at him. “No offense, Jeff, but you can’t tell me what to do. If I want to go to a party, you can’t stop me. And don’t you dare threaten to rat me out to my parents, because that would be a total dick move.”

When he flushes, I know the thought absolutely crossed his mind. “Fine. Then I’ll take you.”

My eyebrows shoot up. “What?”

“If you want to go, I’ll take you.” He reaches for his water bottle and takes a long sip before setting it down. “At least then you’ll have someone there to watch your back.”

There’s a stir of excitement in my belly. “You’ll help me sneak out?”

   
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