Page 33 of Don't Look Back

Sandy was in my history class. Quiet girl. I liked her. “Who cares if she was a lesbian?”

“No one would, but Cassie made it sound like Sandy was obsessed with her and came on to her. Total bullshit, and I’m sure half the school knew that, but no one would go against Cassie.” Sitting back, he folded his arms. “Because no one would go against you, and everyone knew if they messed with Cassie, they were messing with you.”

The pressure was back, clamping down on my lungs. “Why do you think Cassie was like that?”

“Hell if I know, but she was…she was messed up.” He turned his head and his jaw was working again. “Partied a little too hard sometimes…and she’d just start crying and flipping out for no reason. Trey used to say it was daddy issues, but who knows.”

Daddy issues? I mulled that over, remembering that it appeared she had a father on the absentee list. Then I asked something I probably shouldn’t have. “Why did I act the way I did?”

He blinked again and his eyes widened. “Jesus, Sam, I wish I knew, but I don’t. Your parents were good to you. And so was Scott, and even though you changed when you started hanging out with Cassie, not everything can be blamed on her. You made those decisions.”

“I know.” I lowered my gaze. “Cassie and I were terrible together, huh?”

He blew out a long breath, and when I looked up, he was staring out the French doors. “It was weird, like two people coming together and bringing out the absolute worst in each other. If you guys had something on someone, you’d use it to your advantage. Ever the opportunists…and there were a lot of people with a lot of reasons not to like you. But hurt you? That’s different.”

Shame was back, burning through me like acid. I took one last spoonful of melted ice cream, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. Carson glanced at me and then laughed softly.

“What?” I dropped the spoon in the bowl.

“You have ice cream on your chin.”

“I do?” I wiped at my chin. “Did I get it?”

Shaking his head, he reached over the bar and smoothed his thumb under my bottom lip. My chest rose quickly and my breath caught. His thumb stayed just under the corner of my mouth, but his fingers spread underneath my chin. They were calloused against my softer skin, sending a shiver of pleasure through me. Our eyes locked, and I waited for him to remove his hand, because surely the tiny smidgen of ice cream was gone by now, but he didn’t.

Instead, his thumb inched up, trailing across my bottom lip. I sucked in a breath, but like the one before, it got lost somewhere. A heady wave of warmth rolled through me.

I swallowed. “More ice cream?”

A lopsided grin stretched across his lips. “Sure.”

Part of my brain just clicked off. Placing my hands on the edge of the bar, I leaned forward and stopped thinking about everything other than the electric feeling he created with the simplest touch. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, but my body took the lead. My pulse thrummed, and my heart soared when his hand slid to my cheek.

This was wrong, but it also felt so incredibly right.

A throat cleared, and I jerked back, nearly falling off the stool. Much to my horror, Mom stood under a hanging fern, a full glass of red liquid in her hand. “It’s late, Carson,” she said, eyes and tone cold. “I think it’s time that you head home.”

Carson slid me a quick smile as he stood. “Sorry, Mrs. Franco, I didn’t notice the time.”

She nodded curtly.

He glanced at me over his shoulder. “See you at school, Sam.”

My cheeks felt as if they were on fire as I stood. I wanted to walk him out, but he had already disappeared around the corner. Seconds later, a door opened and closed. I’d totally sucked up his time—he hadn’t even visited Scott.

“What are you doing, Samantha?”

I took deep breath. “I was eating ice cream.”

“Don’t play coy with me.”

“I’m not playing coy with you, Mom. I was eating ice cream with Carson. What’s the big deal?” I turned my back to her and picked up our bowls, carrying them to the sink. “It’s not like—”

“I’m not sure I even know you anymore,” she said, voice tight as she set her glass on the bar. “Two weeks ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“Yeah, and two weeks ago, I was a total bitch.” Who apparently had an entire school full of enemies. “So if being a nicer person is a giant letdown to you, you’re just going to have to deal.”

“This isn’t about you being nice.” She followed me to the sink, knocking the bowls out of my hand. One hit the stainless steel and rolled to the side, the other split into two large chunks of ceramic. Stunned, I stared up at her. “You’re going to ruin your life, getting involved with boys like that.”

I backed up. “Mom, we were just talking.”

“That’s not what it looked like to me.” Her cheeks were flushed the same color as her silk blouse. “Boys like him—”

“There isn’t anything wrong with Carson!” I brushed past her, not wanting to argue. Not like I didn’t have enough problems without getting into a verbal smackdown with her. “I’m tired—”

“Don’t make the same mistake I did,” she said in a low, barely audible voice, nostrils flared.

My eyes widened with shock. “What? What is that supposed to mean?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Her heels slapped off the hardwood floors. “I won’t have you embarrassing yourself any further. It’s bad enough—”

“It’s bad enough what, Mom?” I whipped around. Screw the not-fighting part. Everything boiled up inside me, spilling over until all I felt—all I knew—was anger. “Am I still an embarrassment to you? Are all your friends talking? Except now they’re talking about what happened to me—to Cassie? How terrible it must be for you.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you don’t have your memories back? Because this sounds terribly familiar, Samantha.”

“Does it? That’s great.” I tried to stomp past her, but damn she was quick, blocking me.

Regret turned the flecks of green in her eyes darker. “I’m sorry, sweetie. None of this is your fault. No matter what happened or what you might have done, none of this is your fault.”

Shock rippled through me as my mom turned away. I heard her stop by the liquor cabinet, and I knew she was taking the bottle with her. In a daze, I left the kitchen and saw my dad standing there.