I had no words. Those alerts were from me. “Okay, thanks, Brandon.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry, but I’m sure you’ll see her at the street dance tonight.”
My heart paused. I’d been heading back down the porch, but stopped in my tracks. “What?”
“The street dance. Aren’t you going?”
“What is it?”
My heart began picking up speed. Thump thump.
He frowned at me. “It’s the District Weekend, right?”
“Yeah …” Thumpthumpthumpthump. Whatever he was about to say, I knew they’d be there. All of them would be there. My heart was racing.
He continued to frown at me, scratching his head. “It should be in Roussou tonight. All three towns go. You’ve never heard about it?”
“No.” Please tell me. Please, please, please.
“Oh. That’s weird. I thought Mason would’ve told you. He’s been going forever.”
“It’s in Roussou.”
His eyes lit up. “Maybe you shouldn’t go. That’s probably why no one’s said anything. Yeah, don’t go. Forget I said anything, but if you go, you didn’t hear about it from me.”
“I know about the party last night in Frisco.”
“You do?” A relieved grin came over him. “Oh good. Yeah, all three towns host something over the weekend, but it’s always the same thing. The first night, the party’s in Frisco. Then Saturday night, the street dance is in Roussou. They shut down one street, and a lot of people from their community go. I think it was originally meant for the town, but the District Festival kind of took over. Then Sunday, Fallen Crest has a huge bonfire in the hills behind Quickie’s.” He grinned. “It can get crazy there, too.”
“You’ve been there?”
“She hasn’t in the past, but she and Channing have been tight this weekend, so I’m sure she will. He has to go. Most of his friends go so Channing makes sure no one gets hurt, or gets in a fight with the Broudou brothers.”
A party. A street dance. A bonfire. As I waved goodbye and went to get Mark, my heart was pounding against my ribcage. I had a location for the night. I was going to the street dance. There was no way I would stay away. I couldn’t think about Mason’s or Logan’s absence. It was because of their plan. They were doing this to help me. They hadn’t left me. There was no way. I wouldn’t accept that.
As I pushed through the side door and inside Manny’s, I collected Mark. He was laughing with his friends, more people from Fallen Crest Academy that I didn’t want to be around. I wasn’t laughing. Gritting my teeth, I ignored all their looks. I pretended I didn’t notice their stares or the mouths hanging open when they got a better look at my face.
Yes, everyone. I had been attacked and beaten. The bruises were still with me, but I wasn’t getting any more. None from them and none from anyone else. It was why I needed answers from Mason. There was a reason for their absence. There had to be.
I went to the street dance alone.
I never told Mark about it and when he dropped me off at home, I reassured him that everything was fine. Everything was fine. I was going to make sure of it. Getting ready for the street dance was painful in the literal sense, but I chose a white camisole underneath a black sweater and black pants with little black ballet flats. All of it was easy to get into and that had been my main objective. My next goal was make-up. More was applied than I normally wore, and I was proud of myself; almost all of the bruises were hidden by the time I was finished. Then I swept my hair up into a high pony-tail. My hair had grown longer, so it was past my shoulders now. If Heather had been there, she would’ve told me it looked sleek. I didn’t care. I just needed to blend in. I was going into Roussou territory.
I wanted to find Heather first, but as I parked my car and got out, my heart sank. Brandon said one street was blocked off. That was true, but he never said it was the entire main street blocked off. She could be anywhere.
I sighed and started off on my mission.
Going through the first block was easy. It was during the second that people started to look at me. A group of girls jerked together and started whispering. A few pointed at me. My heart sank again. It was already starting, so I veered into the first bathroom I could find. Checking my make-up in the mirror, I didn’t see anything wrong. I looked fine. Normal even. The evening had grown dark so my face looked flawless with none of my bruises showing, but when I went back out, they were still there. There were more behind them and they were watching me now.
Frowning at them, I turned to slip away, but came to an abrupt stop.
Budd Broudou was in front of me, a leer on his face as he looked me up and down. I hardened inside. The longer his gaze lingered on me, the dirtier I felt. As they were transfixed below my waist, I shifted on my feet and snapped, “What do you want?”
He grinned and lifted his hand. A forty ounce bottle touched his lips, and he took a long pull from it before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he licked his lips and tugged at his jeans. They hung low on his waist, already baggy, but the top button was loose so they sagged even more.
I narrowed my eyes.
He chuckled as he caught my reaction. Lifting a hand to his chest, he rubbed it through his white wife-beater. His flannel shirt hung open, the ends of it were frayed and ripped with holes in them. As his hand fell back down to his pants, his finger caught on the end and tore it some more. He seemed unaware that he ripped his shirt, or he just didn’t care.