“Damn it, Kai.” I can’t sit still anymore. I stumble off the bench and start pacing, my blood boiling with anxious energy. I’d beat the shit out of him if it’d do any good.
“Look, I know.”
“Son of a bitch.” I kick a trashcan, anger and desperation bubbling in my gut.
I don’t even know why I’m letting this get me so fucked up. It’s Kai. He’s acid. Potent, corrosive acid that eats everything it touches. Once you let it touch you, it seeps to the bone. Burns a hole right through you.
“No,” I finally say.
“Bro.” He grabs my arm and I shake him loose with a look that says he won’t get to do that again. “You gotta help me out. I’m not kidding. They will come after me.”
“Then run, dude. Hop a bus to Idaho or North Dakota and just fucking hide. I don’t give a shit anymore.”
“You’re serious? You’d leave your best friend hanging—”
“We’re not best friends. And maybe we never were.” I shake my head a few times. “This is your problem to figure out and I don’t want any part of it.”
“I’m sorry, man.” His demeanor shifts. His eyes harden. And now I remember why he used to scare me. “I can’t let you walk away.”
“You don’t want to try me.” I warn, squaring up to him.
There was a time I was just a skinny runt on a skateboard following him around the neighborhood. Not anymore. These days, I could bench this punk and break him over my knee. Better he remembers that before he gets any really stupid ideas.
“Right now, I’m letting you walk away. Next time I see you, things might be different.”
“Nah, brother.” He bares his teeth in a cheerless smile. “See, you forget I still own your ass. Ten grand. Today.”
“You’re out of your mind. I don’t have that kind of money. Even if I did, I wouldn’t give it to you.”
“You can get it,” he says, still determined. “Go and ask stepdaddy for the money.”
Kai sneers at me. “I don’t think that’s how you want to play this, Con. If you don’t get me that money, Daddy Max finds out you’re the one who gave out the alarm code to the mansion and let someone break in and trash the place.” He cocks a brow. “Maybe I even tell him you’re the one who took the missing cash from his office, how’s that sound?”
“You’re a piece of shit, Kai, you know that?”
“Like I said, brother. We can make this easy—just tell Max you need the money for some dumb bullshit. Make something up. You get me the cash and we’re all good. I peace out and everyone’s happy.”
The thing you don’t know as a kid, when your best friends are your whole world and every day is the first and last day of your life, when everything feels urgent and dangerous, every thought and emotion an eruption of planet-colliding force, is that the worst mistake you’ve ever made will outlive all of that. A brief, blinding moment of rage spirals into a lifetime of guilt and regret.
What I hate most about Kai is all the ways I’m just like him. The only difference is that he can admit it.
Dragging a shaky hand through my hair, I keep my gaze fixed on the horizon and force the words out of my tight, burning throat.
“I’ll get you the money.”
I’ve become one of those girls.
Obsessively checking my phone every five seconds and jumping at the phantom vibration.
Turning the phone off and on again because maybe it’s being buggy and that’s why I haven’t gotten a response to my last three text messages.
Texting myself to make sure they’re going through and then making Sasha text me because I don’t fucking know how phones work.
Hating myself the deeper I fall into this spiral of desperation and self-loathing. Dangling out on this branch above a pit of insecurities.
Yup, one of those girls. Every minute that goes by is another minute I can concoct a new scenario where he’s cheating on me, given up on me, laughing at me. I hate myself. Or rather, I hate what I’ve become because I let myself believe a boy could make me happy.
“Give me your phone.” Sasha, who’s sitting beside me on her bedroom floor with our textbooks spread between us, holds out her hand and makes gimme fingers at me. She’s got I was fed up two hours ago written in her cold, dark eyes.
“Now, Taylor.” Oh yes, she’s well past sick of my shit and quickly nearing done with your dumb ass.
“I’ll put it away, okay?” Quickly, I stuff the phone in my back pocket and grab my notebook.
“You put it away six times already. But, weirdly, it won’t seem to stay put away.” She lifts a brow. “Take it out one more time and I’m confiscating, you hear me?”
“I hear you.” And for the next ten minutes, I make a real effort at pretending to study.
I came to the Kappa house this afternoon when I’d run out of other means to distract myself. Conor never texted me when he got back to Hastings from the beach yesterday. We’d made tentative plans to meet up with friends at Malone’s for Saturday night drinks, but afternoon turned into night turned into morning and I still hadn’t heard from him.
I tried texting him again today. Twice. He replied only to say “sorry, something came up,” then ghosted me again when I asked what happened.
Maybe under different circumstances I wouldn’t be getting so worked up, but he’d left in a weird mood on Wednesday night, too. At the time I thought he was upset about that phone call from Kai. But then another notion crawled into my head: that night was the closest we’d come to having sex, and I’d turned him down. Every time we’ve hooked up after Buffalo, I’ve let us push the boundary a little further, but he’s never tried to initiate full-on intercourse.
Until Wednesday night.
He’d been reassuring at the time. He’d said all the right things to put me at ease. But looking back, I wonder if that was only to get me to finish him off. Because once he had that, he bounced.
I let out a shaky breath.
“What?” Sasha pushes her notebook aside and questions me with concerned eyes. “Whatever’s spinning around in your head, just spit it out, girl.”
“Maybe this is…” My teeth dig into my lower lip. “Maybe this is what everyone saw coming?”
She hesitates to answer.
“He told me the night we met he didn’t do girlfriends. That he hadn’t dated anyone for more than a few weeks.” I ignore the sharp clench of my heart. “We’re pretty much pushing that timeframe.”
Her eyes soften. “Is that what you really think?”
“I think he’s gotten tired of blowjobs and at this point would dump me for eight seconds of missionary sex through a sheet.”
Sasha cringes. “Thanks for that visual.”
I swallow my bitterness. “He wouldn’t be the first guy to dump a girl because she doesn’t put out.”
“Never heard of a guy dumping a girl for too many BJs,” she points out.