I paused and glanced over. Heather was on her second cigarette already. I held my tongue and read the next one: We know about your mom. Want that out too?
Heather told me her mom left when they were kids. I wondered what more there was to the story, but went to the eighth text: Fire Strattan. If you don’t, we’ll destroy your daddy’s livelihood.
I couldn’t read the rest. A sick feeling took root in my gut. “I’m sorry.”
Heather ground out her second cigarette, and lit a third right away. As she settled back again, she shook her head. “Brad plays ball with Natalie’s cousin. Never considered warning my oldest brother not to say a word. I’m guessing that’s where she learned all that stuff.” Her voice quivered.
“You used to cut yourself?”
She inhaled a long deep drag before shaking her head. “In the seventh grade. That’s when my mom took off. I was an idiot. She was a horrible person, but I didn’t want a dad that first year. I wanted her back. I blamed him for everything, even though she was the one that cheated, and she was the one that left us. He stayed. She didn’t, but I wanted her.”
There was more to the story. I heard the pain in her voice. “Your mom cheated?” Something we had in common.
She nodded, looking so bleak and defeated. The wind picked up and blew her hair back. It flattened her shirt against her small frame. She was already slender, but the material was so thin that I could see her ribs. Knowing she couldn’t have lost so much weight over just this week, it still made me feel guilty.
“I’m sorry,” I told her.
“For what?” She was almost done with the third cigarette. “I don’t like being told what to do. That’s what she used to do. Kate and the tomboy bitches are just like my mom. I hate being told what to do.” She drew in another drag, cursing at the same time. “They want to tell me what to do? Tell me to drop someone who’s been a better friend than most of my others? I’m starting to really hate them, Sam. I’m talking really hate them, like I want to cut them how I used to cut myself.”
I didn’t know what to say. Heather had stood by me, but she’d been distant all week. “You never told me about your friends? They didn’t look happy with you the other day.”
“Yeah.” She drew her knees up into the chair and wrapped her arms around them. They were like twigs. Still holding the cigarette, she drew in a deep breath. I saw how she swallowed, grimacing at the same time. “I can’t really blame Cory or Rain.”
“Her real name is Rainbow?”
“No.” She blew out a puff of smoke. “Her real name is Ginnie, but we call her Rain. She’s always wearing something with a rainbow. Always has, now that I think about it, since the sixth grade when she moved here. Rain’s short for rainbow.”
“You said she’s an albino.”
“Yeah,” her voice softened and her eyebrows set forward. Frowning to herself, she grew thoughtful. “Kate was being the bitch she is, making fun of her. Cory stuck up for her and the two have been close ever since. Helps that Cory understood. Kate’s been picking on her since the third grade, I think.”
“No wonder they don’t like me.”
“It’s not you.” Heather shook her head, lifting the cigarette again. “It’s Mason and Logan. It’s not even them really, it’s just because they were friends with those girls for so long. They’re why Kate and the Tommy P.’s got so powerful, you know? They gave them weight or cred or whatever. No one wanted to mess with the girls that were ‘friends’ with the top guys.”
“Hey!” Brandon banged on the door. “Game’s going to be over in an hour.”
Heather groaned, finished her last cigarette and put it out.
Both frowned at me. “The basketball game.”
“Fallen Crest …” A foreboding sense of dread kicked in. “Public?” I didn’t need to see their reactions.
“Mason and Logan never said anything?”
“Don’t sweat it. It’s like another day at the job for them. They’re more about football games, aren’t they?”
“Yeah …” But it still stung. Whatever. Another shitty thing to add on to this week. “So what happens after a game? What are we in for?”
“Before your guys made this the popular hangout? Nothing. We would’ve gotten a few stragglers in, but now it’s going to get packed. Our regulars know not to come in. Even Gus, and you know how much he loves his seat, but they know we’ll get swamped. A few girls from school texted and said everyone’s planning on heading here. It’s going to get nuts.”
Forget Mason. Forget Logan. I had a job to do. “You want me in the front or back?”
“I’d say screw it and work the front, but Frank is sick.”
“So the back it is.”
“That’s okay with you?”
It felt like I’d been kicked again when I caught a look of pity in her eyes, but I ignored it. Tried to, but it hurt. No one said a word about the game. I didn’t have any friends at school. I couldn’t hear it from them, and Heather had been distant on her own. I saw her in the hallways, before and after school, but she had started leaving campus during lunch the last couple of days. I’d been distracted. Mason began waiting for me at my locker during lunch. They had an open-campus policy, so we took advantage of it and left to grab fast food. Most of the time was spent on the drive there, getting our food, and then eating it as soon as possible on the way back. Any free moments were spent in the parking lot with a few stolen kisses and some heavy petting. He made sure his car was always parked away from the school and surrounded by his friends’ vehicles, so no one could spy on us.