“Please. If you call Mom and Dad, they’ll come back. I don’t want them to do that. It’s fine.”
“No, they won’t. They’ll understand.”
He truly didn’t know. That was okay, though. That was better.
“You don’t get it, Nate. I can’t go there.” I couldn’t sit in those chairs. “I can’t wait for the moment when they would’ve called his name.” When instead they’ll call mine.
He was quiet for a long, long time.
I waited, scarcely able to breathe.
“Okay,” he finally said.
My hands shook. My arms trembled. My knees were boneless.
“What are you going to do instead? You shouldn’t be alone, Aspen. I get not wanting Mom and Dad there, but what about your older brother? I can fly back. I can come early. It’s no problem. I have a buddy I can see in LA during the week too.”
I opened my mouth to tell him no, but then I thought about it. Blaise would be graduating that day. Blaise was popular. There’d be parties galore for him.
If Nate were here with me, Blaise could go without me, and he could party. He could come to me that night.
So, why not? “That actually sounds good.”
“Yeah.” I felt tears on my cheeks. “I’ll see you on Sunday?”
“I’ll book a flight and let you know when I’m arriving. We’ll do brother-sister stuff all day. Sounds good?”
“Okay. Love you, Aspen. I mean that.” Another beat. “We should do these calls more.”
“Agreed.” I smiled, and we hung up not long after that.
Well, go me. This was progress.
It was the end of the day, and I’d just turned in my last project.
Tomorrow was a skip day for all seniors, so we were done. I never kept anything in my locker except what I needed for class, and all those notebooks had been tossed. I could grab a pen and not come back till Sunday for graduation.
“Heard about your showdown with Daniels.” Zeke fell against the locker next to mine.
I frowned at it, realizing someone must’ve used it, but I’d never seen them. Then a guy stopped, looked at Zeke, and turned to go.
“Hey,” I called after him.
I didn’t know the guy. He was smaller, and wearing the old uniform, though it wasn’t mandatory anymore. He looked at me, but didn’t come over.
I gestured to Zeke. “That your locker?”
The guy swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Yeah.”
“You need in there?”
“Uh...” He tugged at his collar. “Yeah.”
I smacked Zeke on the shoulder. “Move. The guy needs to get into his locker.”
Zeke’s eyebrows rose, but he moved to my other side. He leaned around me as the guy cautiously came forward to open his locker.
“Sorry. I didn’t know.”
The guy stared a moment before stammering, “Yeah. Cool. Yeah.” Then he ducked inside his locker. He grabbed two things and dropped one of them. He scooped to grab it, stuffing it into his pocket before I could see what it was, and slammed his locker shut.
He started off, but stepped back. “Hey. Nice knowing you. You’re going to Cain next year?”
I frowned. “What? No. I’m going to Columbia.”
He seemed confused by that. “Really?”
He shrugged. “Okay. Well, have a good one then.”
Zeke and I watched him go. He glanced back over his shoulder a time or two, his eyes getting big until he put on a burst of speed and turned the corner.
“That’s the first time you’ve seen him all semester, isn’t it?” Zeke said.
He barked out a laugh. “Classic.” He punched me in the arm. “Columbia? For real? Fucking come to Cain. Everyone’s going to be there.”
“Everyone? If you’re hoping to entice me, you’re falling short.”
“Oh.” He fell silent. “Well, I’ll be there. Why Columbia, though? Who’s there?”
Well, shit. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but that could be the reason Griffith was in town. “Non-bio dad has roots there. I was accepted last year. I’m a legacy for his fraternity too.”
Columbia was one of the best schools in the nation, but Cain wasn’t bad either. It was a D1 school like Georgetown.
“I thought you were going to Grant West.”
“Nah. Cain all the way.” Zeke ducked his head a little, glancing away.
If my best friend had ever been self-conscious, I was thinking this was it. He looked five.
He shrugged, shifting on his feet. “You know my mancrush on Mason Kade. Gotta follow in his footsteps.” His head jerked up and he yelled, “Strandling! What the fuck, man?”
Brian passed our hall, talking to a girl. He looked up and gave us a nod. Saying something to the girl, he motioned toward us, and they both raised a hand, separating.
“Who was that?” Zeke asked as Brian approached. “You going to bring her to the party tonight?” He turned to me. “Party tonight. That’s why I came over. It’s not at my house. We’re trying out a new place. You going to bring your woman?”
I ignored his question, eyeing Brian. “Hey, man.”
Brian had steered clear of me since our throw-down, but he nodded back. “Hey. Uh, about the—”
Zeke was all smiles, grabbing Brian’s shoulder and squeezing it. He started to do the same to me, got a look, and lowered his hand. “It’s all good. Water under the bridge.”
Brian looked at him. “What I was going to say, is yeah. It’s all good. Sorry I was a dick. Sorry I’ve been a dick, like, all year.”
Zeke’s head inched back. “Whoa. What’s got into you? That’s a different tune than you were singing last week.”
Brian looked down before rolling his shoulders up and back. “What do you want me to say? I was pissed, but it’s the last day. Things are different.”
He was out of Zeke’s shadow.
“You and Branston are heading to Seattle, right?” I asked.
“Yeah. Our grandfather donates heavily, so we got two spots easy. There’s an Alpha Mu chapter up there. We had a call from them. They dropped your name, said you were joining their chapter in New York?”
I felt a strangled laugh come up my throat.
“Why’d they bring my name up?”
He seemed nervous, grabbing the back of his neck. “I don’t know. He knows one of the guys in your house. They were having a conversation and got to talking about legacies.”
“But why’d my name come up?”
Brian avoided my gaze.
“Dude, just say it.”
Zeke pointed at me with his thumb. “He really is all about the honesty. Be as blunt as you can, and he’ll probably want to hump you.”
I laughed. “Just say it.”
He exhaled. “Okay. There’s talk about your dad—”
Zeke coughed. “Non-bio dad. Or Daddy Dickhead. Either term works.”
“—your non-bio dad and how he’s got some controversy heading his way. Rumor is that twelve women are coming forward in a lawsuit against him.”
“You serious?” I wasn’t surprised. Note that.
“Yeah. I’m sorry, man.”
Zeke frowned at him. “Lawsuit about what?”
“Sexual shit.” Brian’s eyes darted to me. “I guess it’s bad, and they’re considering dropping you.”
I could follow the bouncing ball. “Shit.” I shook my head. “They’re trying to push me off on another house, aren’t they?”
Brian shrugged again. “I don’t know. They asked me about you. I told them you’re not like that. I vouched for you, if you wanted—”
No. I knew. I so knew.
I turned to Zeke. “Start looking for a house.”
He stared at me. One blink. Then he smiled. “Are you serious?”
I nodded. “No fucking way am I dealing with that asshole’s problems.”
“I was going to pledge. You?”
I saw all the plans Zeke was making. We’d be fraternity brothers, roommates, the whole nine yards. “No.”
“What?” His smile fell.
“That was my plan last year, but not now. I’m not going the fraternity way.”
“But…” Zeke swallowed. “We can’t be roommates then.”
He looked like he was about to cry.
I patted him on the shoulder, holding it there a second. “It’ll be fine. I can get my own place.”
“You gotta make sure you can get in the school,” Brian said.
I gave him a cocky smirk. I wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian, but I was in the top seven. Plus, Cain had already reached out, offering a soccer scholarship. I’d just said no because of my non-bio dad’s history with Columbia. Those plans had all been made before the divorce, before everything, and I hadn’t thought to change any of it.
I hadn’t thought much about next year.
I liked Cain. I felt good about the decision.
“Wait. Where’s your girl going next year?” Zeke asked.
I was driving to Aspen’s after school when my phone rang.
The ring came through my sound system, and I glanced down.
I hadn’t been looking forward to this call, but I’d assumed it was coming. I’d been dodging the house all week while non-bio was there, and graduation was in three days.
I hit accept. “Hey, Mom.”
“I want your ass home now. Enough of this. I’m done, Blaise. Do you hear me? Done!”
“Did he tell you about the lawsuit coming against him?”
She was silent.
A full five seconds, and then a sniffle. “What are you talking about?”