Page 25

“Stone said he asked you guys to pack a bag the other day? Is there more of my stuff downstairs?”

Nicole said, “Mia threw a bunch of stuff into a bag for you, but I’m sure she didn’t get everything. Are you… Well, Mia and Sav mentioned you kept asking if you could live here. You know the room’s yours. Are you staying? Going back home?”

Oh. God.

Did they not know? I would’ve assumed they had heard Stone that night.


Nicole further clarified, “Yeah. Your parents. Were they mad about your car?”

Savannah was shaking her head, her eyes wide. “My dad would’ve freaked if I trashed my car. My mom would’ve gotten mad at him for getting mad at me.”

Nicole laughed. “And you’d have a new convertible in about a week.”

Savannah’s eyes lit up. “Yeah. Probably.”

I felt the back of my neck growing warm and looked, more from reflex. Stone was coming around the truck. I recognized the look on his face. It was set in a pissed-off expression, his eyes flashing and hard. He was going to say something. Either about my dad and Gail or about Lisa seeing me and trying to pretend she hadn’t. Either way, Stone was done with this little side-trip.

And I didn’t want to deal with the aftermath.

I stepped to him, my hand on his arm, and I spoke before he could, “Uh.” I shot him a look, saying to the girls, “Yeah. My dad was furious about the car, but he was more concerned that I was okay.”

Please. I was trying to convey to Stone. Please don’t say anything.

I didn’t want to see their pity. I didn’t want to be treated with kid gloves, or worse, with extra cruelty. I just wanted the status quo to remain. Those blogs hadn’t found out about my dad and Gail. They only talked about my car accident.

His jaw clenched, but he drew to a halt next to me. He stepped in, so my shoulder was brushing against his chest, but he didn’t touch me otherwise. He was just there if I needed him.

“Oh, good. That’s good, right? So you think you’ll stick around?” It was one of the guys talking. His eyes were more on Stone, but his question was directed at me.

Stone shifted back, taking point behind me.

It was now all on me to steer the rest of the conversation.

It was a move he did when we were kids. I’d forgotten about that, and the memory almost brought tears to my eyes. Another sense of familiarity, and I was starting to cling to every moment of those.

“Will you?” That was from Savannah.

“Uh.” I couldn’t stay at Stone’s forever, and I’d come to Texas for a reason. And I’d have to see about Jared, but was I a horrible person for wanting to stay? Wanting to keep going with my studies?

I didn’t know.

“I’m not sure, but I’d like to hold onto to the room until I know for sure?”

“Of course.” Nicole reached forward, squeezing my hand. “All semester. That was the original deal, and we can see later what you’re thinking, too.” She was looking from me to Stone, a slight gleam there, and it hit me then.

She thought Stone and I were together together.

“Oh—OH!” I stiffened, jackknifing away from Stone. “He and I, we’re not like that. No. No way.”

Stone started laughing behind me.

Nicole was frowning.

The guys mostly had blank expressions on their face.

Had I been wrong?

Nicole clarified, “No. I know. I was just letting you know the room is still considered yours.”

“Wanna come in and have a beer?” That was from Wyatt.

Stone looked at me, waiting.

“I need to get things from my room.”

I started to push through the crowd until I felt Stone’s hand on my shoulder. “I’ll come with, make sure you don’t pass out on the stairs or something.”

I glared at him. “I’m not that bad.”

“Last seventy-two hours begs to differ. Don’t know if you’ll come back from the room with a kid in tow.”

I shot him another glare, huffing and pushing forward.

Stone was half-guiding me, but he didn’t need to do that either.

Once inside, I said over my shoulder, “You know I actually lived here. I know how to get through the house. You don’t have to ‘guide.’” And I stepped left into a hallway, when I should’ve gone through the kitchen.

I paused. Cursed. And backtracked.

Stone started laughing again. “You were saying?”

“Shut up. Concussion, remember?” I hissed right as the guys were all coming in behind us.

Stone threw them an easy grin. “Don’t mind us. Apparently, Dust knows exactly where she’s going, but just in case we take another wrong turn, how do you get to the basement again?” He poked me. “You know how to get to your room once we get down those stairs, right?”

“I said shut up!”

I swung through the kitchen, wrenching open the door, and huffed all the way to the basement until it hit me what he’d done. He was needling me, knowing I’d get mad, and then I’d forget all the extra stuff I felt around those guys. Insecure. Doubt. Self-conscious. Embarrassed. That was the general smorgasbord of emotions for me.

He waited until we were in the game room and I was opening my door before he asked, “Those two always so welcoming to you?”

I breathed easier at the sight of my bed. My blanket. My books, not just my textbooks which most were at Stone’s. The rest of my clothes. My shower caddy.

My picture frames…

“Holy shit. You have this?” Stone was pulling out the yearbook I stashed.

“No. Don’t—”

But he was already opening it, falling to my bed. “Wow. This was your senior year?”

I knew what page it was on.

And I knew it, but I couldn’t stop him, and a part of me didn’t want to. A part of me needed one more person to read what was written on the very back page, the one page I kept just for her.

Going through the entire book, he laughed, smiled, cursed. He was shaking his head at some points. “Man. I remember those guys from football. I always thought they were dicks.”

Funny. He was pointing to the guys he had partied with his last year, the same guys who went on to ‘rule the school’ after he and his friends left. The same guys who idolized him because he was ‘making it big.’

It took fifteen minutes. Stone took his time, lingering on pages of people he remembered. He stopped, found me in the normal school section, then flipped around. “What the hell? Weren’t you on mock trial or some shit like that?”

I sat in my desk chair. “Yearbook Committee. I was the junior editor when you were a senior.” That’s what he’d been thinking of.

He turned, thumbing through the pages until he found the yearbook staff. I wasn’t there. “What the hell, Dust?”

He wasn’t going to find it. It’d explain everything.

And I couldn’t believe I was going to tell him, but I said with a slight nod, “Last page.”

He frowned at me, then bent his head and flipped to the back of the yearbook.

He saw it, stilling. “Dusty.” A soft one from him.

“I was never popular, but small town, small school. Last year. Everyone was sentimental, so I was surprised that I had to even reserve an entire page for her. But I did.”

I didn’t tell him the sad truth about what he read…the truth that she actually didn’t write that in there. I had.

“Fuck.” Another soft curse from him, his head bent and he was reading.

I knew the entire thing by heart. It’s why I brought the yearbook with me I moved to the floor, leaning back against the wall and pulling my knees up to my chest. “She always told me she wanted to sign my senior yearbook. Not the junior one. Sophomore one. Freshman one. My last one. It was a big deal to her.”

“Your mom died in January.”

I nodded. “The night you won the football championship.”

“Yearbooks don’t get printed till end of April.”


I looked up, locking eyes with him. “I traced her letter in there. She asked me to.”

His eyes closed. His head fell. His shoulders slumped. “Shit, Dusty. Shit.” He moved in a flash. The yearbook was set on my desk and he had me up in the air, his arms around me. He moved back to my bed, and I was on his lap. His arms folded around me, and his head bent down to my shoulder. He breathed out, his air tickling my neck.

We sat there.

This hug wasn’t for me. It was for him. And it was the most intimate hug or touch I’d had from Stone, but it didn’t make my skin crawl. It felt oddly…nice. Familiar again. Like a memory that propelled us back to our childhoods, and I didn’t know why I kept thinking about that stuff. It was so long ago. We’d moved past all that, but his chin was propped on my shoulder when there was a knock on my door.

I started to stand up. His hand tightened on me, holding me in place.

I tried again. He kept me in place again.

Sagging back down, I admitted defeat. “Yeah?”

The door opened. Nicole’s head popped in and her eyes almost popped out. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude—”

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