Page 13 of Don't Look Back

I winced. “Where’s his mom?”

“Dead. Cancer. No health insurance—the trinity of shittiness.”

Before I could respond to that observation, I saw Carson trotting across the driveway, a backpack slung over one shoulder and a gym bag on the other. I wet my lips nervously as he approached the car. He wore faded jeans and a short-sleeve shirt over a white thermal. His hair was still damp, curling on his forehead.

He looked good—really good.

Carson stopped in front of the passenger door and then realized I was already there, gaping at him like an idiot. Frowning, he darted around the front and slid into the seat behind Scott. He didn’t look at me. “What’s she doing here?”

Scott glanced in the rearview mirror. “She used to ride with Cassie, dude.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right.” His ultrabright gaze touched my face for a second, and I felt my skin burn in a pleasant, heady way. He settled back, throwing his arm over the backseat in a lazy, arrogant sprawl.

The car had started moving, and I was still staring at him. Carson’s dark, fathomless blue eyes finally made it back to mine. His gaze dropped, and I realized he was looking at my necklace. A smirk pulled at his lips. “What’s up, Sam?”

“Nothing,” I sputtered. Why couldn’t I pull my eyes away? It was like an old part of me was bold, knew it saw something she liked, and refused to let me turn away.

Scott cleared his throat but didn’t say anything.

A muscle started to tick in Carson’s jaw. “It’s early, and I’m really not up to trading insults with you, so can we just get this out of the way? Yeah, I don’t have a car. Uncool. My clothes didn’t cost me a house payment, and my dad works for your dad. Oh, burn.”

My eyes widened, and I flushed with shame. “I said things like that?”

He shot me a pointed look.

Feeling like the biggest tool ever, I turned around and stared out the window. My stomach was twisting again as I fiddled with the strap on my bag. The back of my throat burned. I couldn’t imagine saying those things to someone else, but I had. After several strained minutes, Scott coaxed Carson into a conversation about baseball practice and I kept to myself. Both of them seemed to appreciate that.

We stopped to get coffee because we apparently weren’t running that late and Scott felt as if he was going to pass out behind the wheel and “pull a Samantha.” Carson ordered straight black, Scott was over at the counter, adding more milk than coffee in his plastic cup, and I stood there, hands twitching at my sides, staring at the menu. The middle-aged woman behind the counter sighed loudly.

Chewing on my lip, I read the entire menu three times. Coffee—my choice of coffee— should be simple, but it wasn’t. I felt…lost.

“Hey,” Carson said from behind me, his breath warm on my cheek, causing me to jump. “You doing okay?”

Feeling my cheeks burn, I nodded.

A man behind me sighed, muttering. I heard the words stupid and rich tossed about. My mortification level soared to new heights.

Carson pulled me out of line, shooting the guy a dark look of warning. “What’s your deal?” he asked.

I glanced down at where his hand wrapped around mine. How could such a simple touch feel sweet as sin? Probably not the best thing to be thinking about given I couldn’t place an order for coffee.

“Sam,” he said, impatient.

Lifting my gaze, I was horrified to feel tears building. “I don’t know what to order.” My voice cracked. “I don’t know…what I like.”

Understanding softened his jaw, and he nodded. “You usually drink a latte—vanilla.” He paused, dropping his hand. “I’ve seen you drink them. Stay here and I’ll order.”

I waited off to the side while he placed the order. People were staring at me. I felt like a child, unable to complete the simplest task. I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere. There was no doubt in my mind that Carson thought I was an idiot.

When he returned with my drink, he popped the lid on the cup. “Careful. It’s hot.”

“Thank you.” I wrapped my hands around it, welcoming the warmth slipping through the java sleeve.

I didn’t talk the rest of the way to school but took in the unfamiliar scenery. A lot of rolling hills, old estates, and very few subdivisions smack-dab in the middle of signs for the battlefield. The town had been around for a long time, and there was a lot of old money by the looks of it.

There was no spark of recognition when I laid eyes on Gettysburg High. It was a large brick building that reminded me of several dorms strung together, surrounded by trees and a sprawling pavilion.

With my heart in my throat, I followed the guys across the parking lot. There was a maroon-and-white banner hanging over the front entrance. HOME OF THE BATTLERS. It had a picture of a demented-looking Easter bunny on it.

The hallways weren’t too crowded yet, but everyone stopped when they saw me. Just stopped and stared. Within seconds, the whispers started. Tipping my head down, I let my hair fall forward and shield my face, but I could still feel them. Eyes filled with curiosity and morbid fascination.

My heart pounded and I clutched the coffee cup. I couldn’t do this. Not when everyone was staring. It would only get worse. Did they know I didn’t remember anything? Maybe Mom was right. I should’ve waited.

Scott fell in step beside me, his back stiff. When I peeked at him, he was shooting death glares at everyone. Kids promptly turned away, but it didn’t stop them from talking. On my other side, Carson kept watch quietly. I had no idea what he was thinking. Was he embarrassed to be seen with me? I couldn’t blame him.

They dropped me off in a lobby surrounded by glass windows. The plump secretary’s smile was full of pity as she ordered me to sit in one of the uncomfortable chairs. Each time I glanced over my shoulder, it seemed as if the group of kids gathering outside the room grew. I was like this gruesome car accident, and everyone had to stop and look.

A neatly dressed woman appeared in the narrow hallway, finally ending my torment. She straightened her glasses. “Miss Franco, are you ready?”

Standing, I grabbed my bag and followed her back to a cramped office. The first thing I did when I sat was search for her name. Judith Messer, counselor extraordinaire.

She took off her glasses, folded them, and placed them aside. The light from the lamp on her desk reflected off her diamond-encrusted wedding band. “How are you feeling, Samantha?”

That seemed like an incredibly stupid question. “Good.”