Home > One Small Thing(7)

One Small Thing(7)
Author: Erin Watt

I walk faster, waving hello to classmates but not stopping until I reach Chase. He’s halted in front of the AP Calc room. How convenient.

I hug my books close to my chest and clear my throat. “Chase.”

He spins slowly until we’re facing each other. “Beth.”

Despite my anger that he might’ve told people about us, I appreciate that he calls me Beth. He knows me only as that. I don’t have to remind him that it’s my name now.

“Who’d you tell?” I say bluntly.

He wrinkles his forehead. “Tell?”

“Yeah, who did you tell?” I repeat, sounding way more confident and confrontational than I feel right now. Just being in his presence is fogging my mind. “About Saturday night.”

Rather than flush or look sheepish, he meets my gaze head-on. “Nobody.”

“Nobody,” I echo, still suspicious.

“Yeah. Why would I tell anyone?” he says simply.

For some inexplicable reason, I believe him. I believe he’s kept quiet about what we did at the party. Someone else must’ve seen us. Maybe someone saw me coming out of that bedroom. Ashleigh, or the guy who owned the house. Whoever it was, I know it wasn’t Chase.

“All right, then,” I say with a nod.

The corners of his eyes crinkle in humor. “All right, then,” he echoes.

Anger dissipating, I brush by him, open the classroom door and then reach back and grab the sleeve of his untucked and unbuttoned denim shirt to pull him inside. “So I don’t know if you’ve heard the scoop, but the AP Calc teacher is a monster. Rumor has it she stays up nights and spends her weekends thinking of new ways to torture us. Expect constant pop quizzes and no-mercy midterms.”

He sounds amused. “Okay.”

There are a few other students inside. Macy Stedman waves to me until she notices Chase. Then her hand falls and her face grows anxious.

“Lizzie, come here.” She motions me over.

“Lizzie?” asks Chase, an odd note in his voice.

“It’s Beth,” I tell him. “Elizabeth Jones.”

There’s a long, strained beat.

“Elizabeth Jones?” he chokes out.

“Yes. But everyone calls me Beth.”

He jerks his arm out of my grip. My hand drops to my side. I flush lightly, embarrassed by his sudden need to get away from me.

“Did you tell me your last name the other night?” His voice is low and harsh. I have to lean in to hear him.

“Maybe. No. Probably not.” I don’t know his, either, I realize. “Why? What’s yours?”

“Lizzie! I need to talk to you!” Macy calls shrilly.

“It’s Beth,” I tell her between gritted teeth. “And I’ll be there in a sec.” I turn back to Chase, whose face is chalk white. “What’s yours?” I repeat.

He licks his lips and takes another step back. And then another. Until two desks are between us. “I’m Charles Donnelly. And I’m sorry.”

With that, he turns on his heel and walks out of the classroom.

Charles Donnelly.

My stomach lurches. “I thought your name was Chase!” I yell after him.

Macy appears at my shoulder. “Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”

I turn bewildered eyes to her, hoping for some help in processing what I just learned. “That was Charles Donnelly?”

“Uh-huh.” She nods and rubs a hand up my arm.

“I didn’t recognize him.” My head’s clogged up. I can’t stop blinking.

“He’s changed a lot. Prison will do that for you,” she sneers toward the empty doorway. “Come on. I bet you’re in shock. I can’t believe you have classes with him. Admin sucks. They are so incompetent.” She leads me over to the desk next to hers. “Should I get you a water? Or, um, a Coke maybe? I’ll get a Coke. Be right back.”

I barely register her leaving because my mind is still whirling over the fact that I slept with Charles Donnelly.

The guy who killed my sister.

I barely make it to the trash can before my breakfast surges violently up my throat.

6

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Macy asks for what feels like the thousandth time.

“Yep,” I answer as brightly as possible. The lunchroom’s familiar buzz isn’t settling my nerves like I’d hoped. Instead, I keep wondering how many of those conversations are about me. I’m not blind to the fact that there was a shit ton of head turning when I entered.

“You didn’t stay in the nurse’s office very long,” Scarlett says quietly. “I would’ve lain in there all day.”

“He shouldn’t even be here,” Macy insists. “Like why isn’t he at Lexington Public or Lincoln?”

“The mayor lives in Grove Heights and that’s Darling school district,” Yvonne, one of my other friends, points out.

A voice of reason. I throw her a small relieved smile. She frowns in return, as if smiling is not permitted at a time like this, so I let my gaze fall back onto my unappealing salad.

“The mayor should open enroll him into Lex. Isn’t that where all the delinquents hang out?” Macy asks.

“There was that huge drug bust in the parking lot last year,” Yvonne confirms. “Their quarterback got sent to juvie.”

“Do you think Charlie and him were in the same cell?” Macy’s tone is scandalized, but she leans forward, elbows on the table, anxious for more gossip.

“Wow. I never thought of that,” Yvonne says.

The table falls silent as they all contemplate this possible turn of events. I shove some wilted lettuce in my mouth and pray that we change the subject.

I’m Charles Donnelly. And I’m sorry.

His rough words keep running through my mind and I’m not trying very hard to shut them out. It’s like when you have a song stuck in your head and you force yourself to listen to it a hundred times until you get so sick of it you never want to hear it again. I’m forcing myself to think about Chase’s—no, Charlie’s—words, to picture his ashen, pained expression when he realized who I was. Maybe if I think about it long and hard enough, I can make sense of what happened without wanting to puke my guts out.

“He is...hot, though, don’t you think?” Macy says in a hushed voice.

Scarlett gasps. “Oh my God, Macy.”

“I’m just saying. He’s hot and you’re all lying if you deny it.” Macy pouts, sitting back in her lunchroom chair.

I hunch over my salad and hope that my friends can’t see my reddened cheeks. I thought he was hot, too. Saturday night, I thought he was the best-looking guy I’d ever laid eyes on. I still do, and that makes me even sicker. I set down my fork and try to breathe through the layer of bile coating my throat.

“He’s not hot. He’s gross. He killed someone,” Yvonne says in disgust.

“Not someone.” Scarlett’s voice rises. “Lizzie’s sister. He killed Lizzie’s sister.”

She’s loud enough that conversation stops at the tables next to ours. I want to slide under the table. I thought my worst day of school was the one where Michelle Harvey spilled her apple juice in my lap during third grade and then Colin Riley ran around telling everyone I’d peed myself. No, the worst day of school was the day they held the memorial for Rachel here. That was definitely the worst. I didn’t cry and everyone eyed me with suspicion. Like I should’ve been curled up in a ball on the ground, comatose with grief and unable to function.

Anxiously, I change the subject. “So does the Calc homework look hard?” I ask Scarlett.

Thankfully she picks up on my distress immediately. “No. She only assigned five problems and they were all review.”

“Great.”

“Do you want to go over them tonight?” she offers. “We can IM.”

“Nah, I think I’m going to do them right when I get home and then go to bed. I have a headache.”

“Of course you do,” Macy coos. She pulls my head onto her shoulder. “You should stay home tomorrow, too.”

I will if it’s going to be like this.

* * *

I sleepwalk through my final classes of the day. Word has spread like fire throughout the school. It reminds me of the first day of high school when everyone whispered behind their hands, “There goes the dead girl’s sister.”

I shove my earbuds in the minute the last bell rings and blast my music so loud that it hurts. I keep them on, not pulling them out until the bus rolls past the drop. Wearily, I trudge to my front door.

Mom is waiting inside, concern etched into her face and her taut frame. I run a shaky hand through my hair. I’m not up for this. Not one bit.

“How was your day?” She tries to reach for my backpack.

I jerk out of her reach and drop the backpack onto my section of the mudroom bench. Rachel’s space is completely empty, of course. Mom keeps it that way as if Rachel’s going to show up one day and need a place to put her shoes and coats.

“How do you think it was?” From the worry in her eyes, I know she’s heard about Charlie Donnelly’s appearance at school. “Did you know he was going to Darling High?”

She hesitates, only for a beat, and a rush of anger spirals through me.

“Oh my God, you totally knew,” I accuse. My parents knew he was back in town and they hadn’t said a single word to me about it?

“I’m sorry. When the nurse called and said you were sick... I know we should’ve said something last night... It was just... We were too...” She trails off, unable to come up with the words.

Silently, I fill them in for her. I know we should’ve warned you that the guy who ran over your sister three years ago is now going to your school but we were too busy being mad and tearing down your bedroom door.

I don’t say this out loud because I’m tired. Tired of the drama, the attention, the pity, the worry. All of it. I keep my mouth closed and my head down. I toe off my shoes and brush by her. She moves out of my way, but her distress follows me like a dark magnetic cloud.

   
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