Page 20 of Don't Look Back

“Sam, wait a sec.”

I turned back to the taller girl and braced myself. Whatever she was going to say was something I most definitely deserved.

She stopped in front of me, smoothing her hands over the studded belt around her hips. “I wanted to talk to you more today, but…”

Surprised that she wasn’t cursing me up and down, I felt the muscles in my back ease up a little. “But I ran off like a freak.”

“I wouldn’t say it was like a freak.” She gave me a tentative smile. “Are you okay?”

There was a moment when I wanted to spew everything that I’d been seeing, because there was a part of me that recognized Julie on some kind of internal level, but the last thing I wanted to do was come off as someone crazy. “Yeah, I’m fine. It was…it was just a lot today.”

“I can imagine.” A sympathetic look crept across her face, and then she took a deep breath. “You really did remember me? Briefly?”

I nodded. “It wasn’t much. I just remembered you when we were—”

“We were probably ten,” she cut in, biting down on her bottom lip. “We hung out every day after school and on the weekends. We were practically inseparable.”

A yearning to go back to that time filled me. “Did I really stop talking to you because you started dating Scott? Because he said I stopped talking to you because you wore something I didn’t like, but I…I don’t think I was that big on fashion.”

“You’ve always had really nice clothes and dressed like a socialite, but you’ve never cared about clothes. Not like the other girls.” Julie’s lips pursed as she brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. “I don’t know what the real reason was. Who knows if it was Scott? That’s what you told me, but it didn’t make sense. And Cassie didn’t like me, Sam. She was epically jealous over our friendship, and I’m pretty sure she had something to do with it.”

Everything came back to Cassie. Did the girl have that much control over my life? Or was it something more than that?

“I should get back. We’re busy studying.” She winked at the look that crossed my face. “I really would like to hang out if you want.”

“That would be nice,” I said quickly. “I mean, I really would like that.”

She laughed softly. “I got it. See you later?”

I gave her a quick, majorly awkward wave and then headed to my bedroom. Closing the door behind me, I let out a ragged breath and sat in front of my laptop. Very slowly, almost reluctantly, I typed in Carson’s name. As I clicked on NEXT, I squeezed my eyes shut.

I pried opened one eye.

The space to enter my new password greeted me.

Confusion bulldozed over me, but behind the question of why I would’ve picked him as a secret answer when I seemed to have hated him, there was a thrilling, humming excitement that brought a giddy smile to my face. A smile I didn’t understand, because I had a boyfriend who I’d apparently been really into.

But Carson had been so close to me in the tree house.

Pushing thoughts of Carson aside, I picked a new password and finally logged in to my account. All the e-mail in my in-box before last Wednesday had been deleted.

Huh…Now that was odd—there wasn’t a single e-mail from Cassie. Not one saved or even in my sent file. Nothing. Someone had been in my e-mail account. That would explain why the password had been goofed up, but the thought made me feel paranoid.

Opening a message from Veronica, I read that she was sorry about lunch and she still loved me. Rolling my eyes, I started to delete it but responded back and told her it was okay. My friends might be jackasses of the highest order, but I needed to give them a chance. Before I shut the computer down, I opened up a new message and typed C in the address bar.

[email protected]

/* */ autofilled.

Seeing the e-mail address stole my breath. I didn’t know why I did what I did next, but I typed two short sentences. Where are you? And then, Who are you?

I hit SEND.

Chapter eight

The rest of the week was sort of normal. I went back to school, and I tried to fit back into this life that was so unfamiliar to me. I learned the hierarchy of my school pretty quickly and how it all worked. There were three groups, it seemed: those at the top, those who managed to become friends with the ones at the top, and then everyone who didn’t.

My friends were clearly part of the first group. Each of our families had strong roots in Gettysburg or in the surrounding towns. All the sprawling estates we passed from our home to school were owned by one of them or their extended family.

And our families ruled the county.

Lauren’s father was involved in investment, like mine. Candy’s father owned the largest realty company in the state. Veronica’s father was a state supreme court judge. Trey’s father worked in New York City at the British Embassy. And we were just like our parents—we ruled the school.

I quickly realized that our actions were rarely questioned, mainly because of who our parents were. Old blood. Old money. I had a feeling it wasn’t like this in other places. Sure, there was always one group that ran the school, but everything was so stratified here. I thought maybe it had to do with how tight-knit the community was. Well, the rich portion of it. They—er, we—were tight-knit. Everyone else was an interloper or whatever.

Something didn’t fit in the equation, though, and that was Cassie. I don’t know how I knew that or if it was one of the weird feelings I got that I knew was linked to my life before, but I had this distinct impression that Cassie had been an interloper and I had been fiercely protective of that.

None of that made sense. Hell, my life didn’t make much sense.

At lunch, I ate with the girls. Twice they invited me to go dress shopping with them, but I refused. Planning for prom just seemed inappropriate given everything. And as much as I tried to make things normal, there was this huge gulf between my friends and me. I didn’t join in when they made fun of other people or laugh at their jokes. With each day, their looks became longer and darker, their comments more snide. I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d ended up on the wrong side of special with them.

I hung out with Del after baseball practice. Once I went to his home, which made my house look like one of the seedy motels alongside highways. Money was clearly one of the most important factors in his family’s life, much like in mine. He was patient with me and the whole getting-to-know-you-again thing, but I could tell he was waiting for me to snap out of it, to become this girl he’d fallen in love with, and so was I. Their expectations—my parents’, friends’, and Del’s—all weighed on me, and at the end of the day I always resurfaced feeling as if I was lacking…something. The only part of the day I really, truly enjoyed was the ride to school in the morning and bio.