It was the feeling after the nothing that gave me nightmares, when I let myself remember.
I wasn’t letting myself remember.
“Hey.” Blaise stepped in front of me. “Hey.” He wrapped me in his arms. “I get it,” he whispered. “You don’t have to say anything more. Trust me. I get it.” He pulled back, looking down.
I wasn’t at the edge anymore. He’d pulled me back.
“I am fucked up, and I’m guessing I’m contagious—making you think you’re all messed up, but you aren’t. You’re good. You know that, right?” He said that like he was trying to convince me the sky was up and not down, and I was the moron for not believing him. Then he grinned. “You got a television screen in this house? Let’s watch a movie.” He looked around and made a tsking sound. “This massive place and no television in your room? So low-brow of you, Aspen. I’m disappointed.”
“Shut up.” I tugged him to the door and led him to the movie room. I was a little embarrassed. “There’s a bigger one in the basement, but this one is just for me. They put it in on the off chance I might have friends who wanted to hang out.”
My neck was hot. I knew my face was red, and I didn’t know why. Blaise came from wealth too.
I motioned to the speakers. “We can turn it super loud and no one will hear us.”
He looked around the room. The large screen encompassed an entire wall. There were couches spread out over the rest of the room.
He shook his head. “Man, no snack room? No attendant to walk the lane, check our tickets? Make sure we didn’t sneak in? You’re so poor.”
“Stop it.” I hit him with a pillow and nodded to the back. “The snack room is there, and before you make any more jokes, I actually talked my parents out of doing more than they did.” This was embarrassing enough.
Blaise sighed as he grinned down at me. “Looks like we’ll just have to hole up here in case there’s a zombie outbreak. What? You don’t have two pizza toasters? Just one? Talk about budget cuts. I can really see it in here.”
I grinned, my chest loosening, and by the time we’d made a pizza and settled on the couches, it was well past midnight. When the movie started—a superhero one that wasn’t scheduled to come out for another year—I got comfortable. This was one of the perks of my parents’ job, but I was asleep not even halfway through it.
At one point, I woke to the feeling of a blanket settling over me. Then Blaise pulled me against his chest, and I closed my eyes once more.
“I’m not always this bad, Aspen,” he whispered. “I promise.”
He was almost perfect to me.
Blaise: Where are you?
Me: Still in bed.
It was Monday morning, just past nine, and I was tired. Not that I really had any reason to be, but I was. I was calling this an early vacation, since I was done with school. There was no reason to go, even though I wasn’t camping after all. And since I planned to ignore my graduation (they would mail me the diploma, I checked), this was the beginning of my summer.
I’d been planning all these summer camping trips, but Blaise had ruined those for me. Not that I couldn’t still go, but it would be different. I felt a slight panic thinking about that—thinking I might never want to camp alone again. No way. I’d still go. I’d start planning my next trip now.
Blaise: Come to school.
The phone rang a second later.
I answered, putting him on speaker and crawling out of bed. “What’s going on?”
“I’m annoyed you’re not here.”
I grinned, running the water to wash my face. “I’m done with school. I’ve completed all my classes. There’s no reason for me to show up.”
“I’m your reason.”
That felt nice, but I wasn’t going.
He seemed to know that, because he sighed. “Fine. There are parties every day this week. Can I talk you into going to any of them with me?”
I’d dipped my washcloth under the water, but I paused and pulled it back. Turning the water off, I waited, my chest tight. He wanted me to hang out with his friends? I didn’t people. At all. Blaise was becoming the exception.
“Hello?” he said. A bell sounded from his end and he cursed. “Shit. I gotta go. I’ll call later, okay?”
“Okay.” Thank God we didn’t have to finish this conversation. “Have a great day.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled. “Fuck you.”
I laughed, then ended the call and heaved a sigh of relief.
What do I do? I looked at myself in the mirror. I raised my eyebrow, digging at my reflection. Huh? I asked myself. What do you do when you’re falling for the popular bad boy and you’re completely out of your league?
I was an introvert. I was socially awkward. My only positives were that if you put me in front of a professional photographer, I photographed well, and my parents had money. That was it.
But my life wasn’t even a problem for me to complain about. What was I doing?
There was a knock on my bedroom door, and it pushed open. Miss Sandy walked in with her housekeeping cart. Seeing me, she jumped back.
“Ahh!” She sagged back against the door. “Miss Aspen! You scared me.” She took in the still-messy bed and my desk with an open bag of chips and my computer on it. My closet spilled clothes on the floor, and Blaise had left a blanket and pillow on my couch yesterday.
“Miss Aspen?” She seemed mystified.
So was I. Blaise had showed up Saturday night and then hung out most of the day yesterday, so the room was messy. He’d gone home when his mom called saying she wanted him to be there for dinner. I’d gotten a few texts late last night, so I knew he hadn’t stayed at his house. He was at Zeke’s, and he’d sent a picture—just him and Zeke playing video games all night. He hadn’t needed to reassure me, because I didn’t take him for a liar. The only thing he owed me was not to touch another girl until we knew what was going on between us.
But it was kinda nice to get the text too.
“Sorry,” I told Miss Sandy, surveying the mess.
“No.” She patted her chest, frowning. “Why are you not in school?”
Graduation was next Sunday. I just needed to play this so they didn’t start wondering about it—not until it had passed. “I’m not feeling well,” I lied with a smile.
“Oh no.” She crossed the room, putting the back of her hand to my forehead. “You don’t feel like you have a fever, but one never knows.” She motioned me toward the bed. “Shoo, shoo. Get in bed. I’ll bring you everything you need.”
She hurried around the room as I crawled back under the covers. She picked things up, straightening the room, still doing her job. I had to smile at that. Miss Sandy, always the professional. When she came to one of Blaise’s shirts, she paused.
I groaned, realizing what it was.
The emblem on the shirt was a marijuana leaf making a sexually suggestive hand motion.
I knew that now.
She rotated swiftly to me. She put the shirt on the bed, then picked it back up and folded it, placing it on the arm of the couch. She looked at me, and I waited, biting down on my lip.
Sandy hadn’t come in yesterday.
Blaise had been here most of the day and no one knew. My mom had emailed me and come over once, knocking on the door to ask if I wanted to go with them to dinner in Los Angeles. They were going there for business and would be gone most of this week. I’d declined the dinner invite, and Blaise had left shortly after that for his own family dinner. He’d thought it was a hoot, standing behind the door while my mom was on the other side of it.
I’d just rolled my eyes at him because I’d already lost probably three years of my life, worrying he’d be caught. My mom wasn’t known for coming in and being motherly, but there had been times when she decided we needed a mother-daughter talk.
However, lately she’d seemed distracted, and I’d used that to my advantage. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to skip graduation, and I didn’t want to focus on it long enough to find the reason. I just knew once it had passed, I would breathe easier.
“Would you like tea for your morning breakfast?” Miss Sandy asked.
That’s it? That was all she was going to say?
I didn’t know if I was disappointed or overjoyed, but I nodded. “Yeah. That’d be great. And could I get just some egg whites?”
She paused in the doorway. “No toast this morning?”
I usually grabbed my own food, but since Miss Sandy thought I was sick, I knew she’d prepare a tray.
I tried to give her a smile, and I suddenly had a feeling she knew I was lying. “I’m good with just tea and the egg whites. Thank you, Miss Sandy.”
“Of course, Miss Aspen.” Her smile was tender. “You feel better, okay?”
I nodded and blinked back a tear as she shut the door. I collapsed into my bed, feeling like the worst person in the world. I hated lying, but this was graduation week. I needed to stay firm. I just had to.
I picked up my phone and took a picture of Blaise’s shirt, sending it to him.
Me: You left a memento. Miss Sandy found it.
Blaise: Aw, shit. Sorry.