I shrugged. “Life goals.”
See? Stuff like that didn’t faze me. Never had. Owen had always laughed at how odd I was. He told his friends— Pain laced my chest.
I got choked up and turned away, ducking so Blaise couldn’t see my eyes.
I blinked back sudden tears.
I hurried forward, and Blaise had to move out of my way.
Then I was inside Maisie and starting the engine. “I have to go,” I said in a rush before I closed the door. A second later, I was out of there, tears streaming down my face.
No one, no one, got to see me cry. Ever.
The girl had issues. That was obvious.
I watched as she tore out of the parking lot, knowing she believed I thought she was psychotic. I didn’t think that. She just seemed like a girl who didn’t want attention. There was always a reason for that. No one grows up not wanting to be noticed; something had to have happened. But whatever it was wasn’t something I had to deal with or think about. I’d confronted her, wanting to make sure she hadn’t taken a video of Mara going down on me. I’d also wanted to feel her out, see if she was the type to blab about it, but she wasn’t.
I’d thrown a ton of shit at her, and the only thing that cracked her surface wasn’t something I said. I called her weird, and she deflected that as if it were air, but then something inside her broke through. I didn’t know what it was, but again, it wasn’t my issue.
I could walk away knowing there would be no collateral damage of her spreading rumors, but why did I care? It wasn’t like people didn’t know. A video would have been a problem. Then I’d have had to do damage to her, and there was something about her I didn’t want to hurt.
I mean, she was hot, but just this conversation told me she wasn’t worth it. No quick dip or taste. The girl had some severe damage.
And again, not my issue.
Why the fuck was I still thinking about this? I cursed, shaking my head clear and pulling myself out of whatever the fuck I was doing here.
Sick car, though. I wish I knew her better. I’d ask to drive it.
I looked over. Jamie and Oliver were heading across the parking lot toward me.
“What’s your deal?” I asked as they approached. “Zeke ask you to keep an eye on me?”
They’d been like my shadow all day, and I didn’t know what they were thinking. That made me wary.
They shared a look.
Jamie shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest. I was still standing next to the truck beside where Aspen had parked, and Jamie leaned a shoulder against it. “Zeke didn’t ask us to do anything. We’re just tired of how things have been here.”
Both seemed resigned.
I shook my head. “We’re almost out of here. It’s too late to change anything. This ain’t worth it for you guys.”
Jamie laughed. “Exactly.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
He kicked up from the vehicle and shrugged, glancing back at the school, which was starting to empty of students. “Zeke might’ve done something if you’d pulled this at the beginning of the semester. You pushed back against him. He doesn’t forget that shit—or he doesn’t with us. You might be different, but you got pull. I mean, we’re here. We’ve never backed anyone else, and he knew that’s what we did today. We were backing you. He ain’t going to do shit because it’s almost the end of the year, but man, we got summer left. There’s parties to be had, to throw, to crash. Zeke loves you, and he ain’t ever gonna let you go.”
I grunted. “That makes him sound creepy.”
Oliver shook his head, shrugging. “No offense, but Allen is a bit creepy with you. He always has been. He really does love you, and not like he wants to fuck you. He’s got unconditional, agape-type-shit love for you. He won’t do anything to you, but us he might’ve fucked over. He won’t now. We’re heading into party season. He just wants to go along to get along, ya know?”
Party season. Summertime.
“I’m heading to New York.”
They both laughed. “Then we’re either all coming with you or you ain’t going to be there long.”
I studied them. Zeke had said the same to me a month ago, and my mom had laughed when I told her about my summer plans this morning. Why did everyone doubt that I was going to New York?
“I have to,” I told them. “My non-bio dad is being an asshole to my mom. I need to go make sure he’s not going to mess with her.”
Jamie held his hands up. “Whatever. We’ll come with you for that too.”
“You know Allen’s with you, no matter where you go,” Oliver added. “You won’t be able to get rid of the asshole.”
And as if to prove his point, Zeke came out of the school just at that moment. I noted neither Brian nor Branston was with him, which meant he’d specifically told them to steer clear. He walked across the lot, slowing when he was within talking distance. He kept some space between us, eyeing Jamie and Oliver.
“Hey, man. What’s the deal tonight?”
I let out a breath. I’d not realized I’d been holding it, but it didn’t seem Zeke was going to hold this morning against me. “I’m supposed to do a family dinner. You up for helping me with some distracting?”
His eyes lit up. “Your sister-in-law going to be there?”
Jamie and Oliver started laughing.
I rolled my eyes. “Shut up, douches.”
He was talking about my half-brother’s girlfriend, who was not someone to mess with. My half-brother wasn’t either, but Zeke already knew that. He’d gone against them earlier this year and gotten his car exploded because of it. He’d let bygones be bygones once he found out about my relation to them, but he knew things were dicey between my half-brother and me.
Zeke’s grin turned wicked. “What about your sister? You think her boyfriend will be there? He’s a nice little fighter dude to fuck with. Gets all hot and bothered if he thinks we’re flirting with his woman.”
“Don’t fuck with Taz.” Or her boyfriend, but I held that back because that would ensure Zeke would fuck with him. I was picking my battles here, and I was tired. Maybe that burst of anger this morning, whatever it’d been, had been enough for me? Got some of my demons out or something? Who knew.
“Yeah.” Zeke laughed, rolling his shoulders back. He was settling in, which meant he was feeling good about how things were going between us. His grin was easy. “I’m down. I can distract anyone you want me to distract tonight. I love these family dinners. Drop the word pussy a few too many times and everyone’s all up in arms.”
I grinned. For a while, that’d been Zeke’s favorite word. Pussy this, pussy that. Literally every other word was pussy. That’d been an interesting month.
“You want in too?” I asked the others.
“Hell yeah,” Jamie answered.
Oliver nodded. “Count us in.”
Maybe dinner wasn’t going to be too bad. I’d never brought these guys to the house before, just Zeke.
I pulled my keys out. “I can drive.”
Zeke got shotgun. “Have I mentioned how I’d love to make love to your G Wagon, B?”
“Fucking Mercedes too.” Jamie whistled under his breath as he climbed in.
I shot them a look, snorting. “Right, because your BMW is so low class?”
Jamie just smiled. Cocky fucker.
I needed to camp. Stat.
I would break out in hives if I didn’t get my camp on, and I had a plan formed before I’d driven Maisie all the way home from school.
School was mostly done for seniors. A few tests and a few papers to turn in, but we’d gotten most of our work completed a week or so ago. They had to have time to make sure we all had passing grades and could actually graduate. People were still showing up because they didn’t want to piss off the administration, but I was different. No one really knew I existed, except Blaise now. And my biology partner. But neither of them would care. And neither might notice anyway.
When I got home, I pulled up the last of my remaining projects. I emailed the teachers, and within two hours, I had the final details for my last assignments. My plan was to complete everything. I made arrangements to take two tests the following morning, missing my slacker classes to get that done.
Since being here, I’d never caused a problem.
My grades were good: A’s. I already had college set in stone: Cain University. My parents didn’t know that was my final choice. They thought I wanted to attend Hillcrest’s sister university because so many of my Hillcrest friends were going there, but nope. I wanted to go where my brother had gone. Nate had found himself there. I knew things had been rocky in the beginning, but that smoothed out, and at Cain was the first time I saw him happy. I wanted to go there and understand.
But back to camping. Because camping would get me through the last weeks of school.
Camping would get me through the summer.
Camping let me breathe.