I hid a smile.
He must’ve sensed it because he said, “I know. I’m not the nicest person, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to choose people like that to trust. I don’t trust anyone except you and Logan.”
“You began to trust Marissa?”
“Yeah. We’d talk. That’s it. We didn’t hang out or anything. I think I sat at her table a few times for lunch. That seemed like a big deal to everyone, but whatever. I didn’t want to deal with the bullshit from the girls. They’re hard to handle sometimes. Logan understood. Just dealing with the divorce and the fights at home, I didn’t want to deal with hearing shit at school, too. Marissa was nice. Her friends were quiet, but they didn’t seem to mind me when I sat with them. Looking back, I think that’s what put a target on her. It was after that when I began hearing things.”
My fingers curled into his, interlocking our hands together. “Marissa never told you?”
“No, she never did, but I started noticing things. She lost weight. She looked tired all the time. I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. She wasn’t my girlfriend. I didn’t care that much; she was just nice to talk to at times. That was it.”
I heard the struggle in him. He didn’t quite understand. “You trusted her.” It was beginning to make sense. “You never trusted those other girls. You tolerated them. They must’ve seen it.” And hated it. The pieces were coming together. They had destroyed Marissa because he enjoyed her company. If they did that to her, what were they going to do to me? A shudder went through me at the thought. I was much more than a friend. I was beginning to realize he had no idea what they had done to her. Guys weren’t told when girls tormented other girls. It was an unspoken rule, one that I had broken. I gulped now. Would it be worse because I brought them in? But no. That wasn’t the right thought. They would win if I started to think like that. Heather was right, it was time for me to fight back.
“Yeah, maybe.” His chest lifted and lowered as he took in a deep breath. “I’m sure I don’t even know half the shit they did to her, but I knew about the mannequins. It wasn’t Marissa, but it looked just like her. The pictures were all over. People laughed at them, and it was like they were laughing at her.”
“What happened after that?”
He started to lift his shoulder in a shrug, but dropped it. “More,” he bit off the end of his word. His hold on me tightened, as if trying to guard me from it, too. “I heard little things they did, like breaking the lock on her locker. She used to ride the bus to school, and I’m sure things must’ve happened there, too. Towards the end, her parents drove her.” His hand had a cement hold on my arm now. “You don’t understand. Kate and the girls had a lot of power over all the other girls back then. They don’t anymore. When they were exiled from the guys, I knew that would fracture the power they had over the rest. I see it too. The other girls aren’t doing what Kate wants. They’re starting to go against Kate and her friends.”
He was holding me so tightly. When a slight tremor went through him, I knew he wanted to protect me. Turning my head to the side, I looked at him. His eyes were closed and his eyebrows were bunched forward, strained together. Then he said further, “I didn’t stop them and I should have. I’m not a bully, Sam. I don’t pick on the weak or try to make someone’s life hell, but if they come after me or someone I love, then I’ll go after them with everything I’ve got. I’ll use all of their weaknesses to destroy them, but I never start the fight.”
He didn’t start the fight, but he finished it. I understood what he was saying. “Mason.”
His eyelids lifted and the regret in them took my breath away. Then I swallowed over the lump in my throat and spoke, “She didn’t tell you what was happening. She wasn’t your girlfriend. Your parents were getting a divorce. You can’t blame yourself for not stopping Kate. I’m betting that you didn’t even know half of what they did.”
“That’s the problem,” he bit out. His eyes growing cold. “I should’ve. She was my friend. She was a good person, and I didn’t fight for her like I should’ve. What they did to her is on me. I didn’t stop them when I could’ve. No one else could’ve, so it was my place to do it. I didn’t. A part of me checked out, Sam. You’re right. All the crap from the divorce. It went on long after Logan dumped Tate, too. She made it worse. Thinking back, it was how Tate hurt me back, through Marissa, but she stopped talking to me at the end. She had the teacher assign her to someone else and she stopped even saying hi to me. It was like we were strangers.”
“Did it stop then?”
That one word came out like an ache. He was haunted by it.
I waited for him to continue, and he did, “I was grateful when she left. It stopped. She was safe.”
“You started talking again after she left?”
He nodded. “She emailed me, told me that she didn’t blame me for what happened. I was such an ass. I didn’t even comment on it. I still have never said a word about it to her.”
I didn’t know what to say so I moved until I was straddling him. He fell back against the couch. His hands went to my legs, where mine rested on top of them, and he watched me from underneath heavy eyelids. His jaw clenched and some of his old wall came back in place. He was always so guarded.